By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
June 11, 2008 - Defense Department officials called a U.S. air strike yesterday in Pakistan near the Afghanistan border "legitimate" and "self-defense," and said they are investigating the attack with Pakistani officials. "Every indication we have at this point is that the actions that were taken by U.S. forces were legitimate, in that they were in self-defense after U.S. forces operating on the border of Pakistan in Afghanistan territory came under attack from hostile forces," Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said in a news conference today.
"In self-defense, they called in an air strike, which took out those forces that were attacking them," he added.
News articles today quoted Pakistani officials as saying the U.S. air strike killed 11 members of Pakistan's military. However, Morrell did not confirm that members of Pakistan's military died in the air strike.
"This is a complex attack involving an air strike and artillery and a number of forces in an area of the world and along a border that has traditionally been a problem and is often the cause of some confusion as to who the forces are that are involved," he said.
Based upon initial reports of the attack, the State Department expressed regret over any Pakistani military killed in the attack.
"This is a regrettable incident. We're sad to see the loss of life among the Pakistani military, who are partners in fighting terror," Gonzalo Gallegos, deputy State Department spokesman, said in a news conference today. "This is a reminder that better cross-border communications between forces is vital."
Morrell said U.S. and Pakistani officials are investigating the incident. "We are aware of some of the concerns that have been expressed by the Pakistani army and other elements of the Pakistan government," he said. "And I can tell you that we are working with the Pakistani government to try to get to the bottom of this incident so that they have a better understanding of it, [and] so that we have a better understanding of it."
U.S. military officials said three coalition aircraft launched the counter strike into Pakistan, where enemy fighters fled after attacking coalition ground forces in Afghanistan's Konar province.
"We were running company- and battalion-sized operations in that general area when our guys came under contact from enemy forces on the Afghan side of the border, and in self-defense, we responded," a senior military official in Afghanistan, speaking on background, said today.
"There's a lot of infiltration that goes across the border either side," the senior official added. "So we run operations on our side of the border in combination with the Pakistanis on the other side."