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Pakistan rejects airstrikes report, still seeks apology

The Pakistani army Friday rejected key findings from a U.S. investigation into American airstrikes last month that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, saying the report was unlikely to repair the severely damaged relationship between the two countries.

The investigation -- details of which were released Thursday -- concluded that mistakes on both sides led to last month's deadly attack along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan has maintained its troops did nothing wrong and the attack was a deliberate act of aggression.

Pakistan refused to participate in the investigation, saying past U.S. probes into border incidents were biased. It also retaliated against the attack by closing its border to NATO supplies meant for troops in Afghanistan and kicking the United States out of a base used to operate American drones.

Pakistan's response, while not surprising, is likely to worry Washington since the country's support is critical for the Afghan war. Pakistan not only provides a key route for supplies, but it is important for peace negotiations with the Taliban.

Pakistani army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas rejected the report's claim that Pakistani troops fired at American and Afghan forces first, triggering the incident. He told the Associated Press in an interview Friday that Pakistani forces retaliated only after coalition helicopters "started engagement." He also denied that Pakistan failed to notify NATO of the location of the two border posts that were attacked.

Abbas expressed surprise and frustration that the United States refused to apologize for the deaths of the soldiers, something many Pakistanis have demanded. He rejected an American offer to pay compensation to the victims' families, saying the army has its own welfare system. "Nobody is interested in compensation," he said. "It is not in our military culture to take money for a fallen soldier. It is abhorred. We will take care of our own."

U.S. officials Thursday accepted some blame for the incident and expressed regret for the deaths, but they said their troops acted "with appropriate force" in self-defense because they thought they were being attacked by Taliban insurgents.

Brig. Gen. Stephen Clark, an Air Force special operations officer who led the investigation, said in a Pentagon briefing that U.S. forces did not know that the two relatively new Pakistani outposts -- spare structures constructed with stacked gray stones -- had been set up on the border.

Abbas repeated the army's claim that Pakistan had given NATO maps that clearly marked the location of the two outposts -- Volcano and Boulder -- located on a mountain ridge in the Mohmand tribal area. He also said the Taliban do not use such structures.

"Taliban do not make posts," said Abbas. "No insurgents make posts. It is a running war against insurgents."

Abbas accused NATO and Afghan forces of "gross violations" of standard operating procedures, including not informing Pakistan that their forces would be conducting an overnight operation along the border Nov. 25 and Nov. 26, when the attack occurred.

Clark acknowledged the United States had not informed Pakistan that American and Afghan commandos were conducting an operation. U.S. and NATO commanders believe that some of their military operations have been compromised when they've given details and locations to the Pakistanis, he said.