The US-led coalition in Afghanistan released footage on Thursday of a skirmish with militants that Pakistan claims resulted in a deadly airstrike on one of its border posts. Pakistan says that 11 of its troops died when a bomb fell on the Gorparai post in the Mohmand frontier region on Tuesday. It lodged a strong diplomatic protest and called the strike a “completely unprovoked and cowardly act”.
But Pakistani and US officials have given widely differing accounts of an event that threatens to further sour relations between key allies in Washington’s war on terror.
The footage is excerpts of a video shot by a surveillance drone circling above the mountainous battle zone. The grainy, monochrome images show about a half-dozen men firing small arms and rocket-propelled grenades from a ridge at coalition troops off camera in the valley below.
According to the voiceover, the ridge is in Afghanistan’s Kunar province, about 200 metres from the Pakistan border and close to the Gorparai checkpoint. Neither the checkpoint nor any other structures are visible in the excerpts.
The voiceover says the coalition forces were on a reconnaissance mission and returned fire in a bid to break contact and move to a point where a helicopter could pluck them to safety. It shows the “anti-Afghan militants” moving to a position identified as inside Pakistan and the impact of a bomb which the voiceover says killed two of them.
The survivors then fled into a ravine, where three more bombs were dropped, nearly three hours after the clash began. The voiceover said all the militants were killed.
One of the bombs fell off screen, and US officials said about a dozen bombs were dropped in all.
On Wednesday, US diplomats offered apologies for the reported casualties. But the Pentagon insisted the drone footage of the bombings showed they hit their intended targets.
Pakistan army spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas gave a different account.
Abbas said the fighting broke out after Afghan government soldiers who had occupied a mountaintop position in a disputed border zone on Monday acceded to a Pakistan request to withdraw.
“They were on their way back and they were attacked by insurgents in their own territory,” Abbas said. He said the Afghans then called in coalition airstrikes, which hit the Pakistani Frontier Corps post across the border.