Islamabad, Dec 2: Ruing that Pakistan Air Force jets could not be scrambled due to “communication breakdown” and “lack of clarity”, army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has ordered his troops to respond with “full force” in case of another “act of aggression” by NATO forces.
However, hours after the powerful army chief upped the ante by his strong remarks, a US media report today claimed that Pakistani officials, who were unaware of their soldiers being in the Mohmand Agency, gave the green signal for the cross-border NATO airstrikes.
The comments came in wake of the deadly air strike by NATO on Saturday on two Pakistani border outposts that resulted in the killing of 24 soldiers.
While lauding the response of his troops to the NATO air strike, Kayani said the action could have been more effective if the Pakistan Air Force had joined in.
However, it was no fault of the PAF that it could not participate in the action and a timely decision could not be taken due to the breakdown of communications and a lack of clarity, Kayani was quoted as saying by official sources.
The army chief said he had issued directions that “any act of aggression” would be responded to with “full force, regardless of the cost and consequences”.
Any aggressor will not “walk away easily” and “no loss will be considered greater than upholding the national institution's honour”, the sources further quoted the army chief as saying.
However, according to The Express Tribune daily, the latest move is being seen by many as an attempt by the military brass to pacify the growing anger among the lower-cadre of the army over the NATO strikes and also use it as pressure tactic.
The army chief told commanders of units deployed along the western border with Afghanistan that they had “full liberty of action to respond (by) employing all capabilities” available at their disposal, the sources said. Kayani said there should be “no ambiguity in the rules of engagement for everyone down the chain of command” if they faced an attack by NATO forces.
Such an action would “require no clearance at any level” and the army would “provide resources as required on ground”, he was quoted as saying.
Following Saturday's air strike, Pakistan has closed all NATO supply routes and asked the US to vacate Shamsi airbase, reportedly used by CIA-operated drones. Pakistan also decided to boycott the Bonn Conference on Afghanistan to protest the attack.
The sources said Kayani had described the NATO attack as a “blatant act of aggression” that was “unacceptable”.
Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal quoting US officials' brief on the preliminary investigation into the incident today said, “Pakistani officials at a border coordination center gave the go-ahead to American airstrikes that inadvertently killed 24 Pakistan troops, unaware that their own forces were in the area”.
US officials said an Afghan-led assault force that included American commandos were hunting Taliban militants when they came under fire from an encampment. The encampment, prompting the team to contact a joint border-control center to determine whether Pakistani forces were in the area, the report said.
The border-control center is manned by US, Afghan and Pakistani representatives who are supposed to share information and head off conflicts.
“When called, the Pakistani representatives at the center said there were no Pakistani military forces in the area identified by the commandos, clearing the way for the Americans to conduct the airstrikes”, the US officials were quoted as saying.