By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 26, 2011 - Drawing on findings from the investigation into the deadly Nov. 25-26 incident near Afghanistan's border with Pakistan, U.S. Central Command commander Marine Corps Gen. James R. Mattis directed the International Security Assistance Force to take a series of corrective actions.
The actions, directed to ISAF Commander Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, are intended to correct problems of mistrust and miscommunication among those working in the border area. Those kinds of problems led to the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers.
U.S. Central Command today released an unclassified version of the investigation report by its investigating officer, Air Force Brig. Gen. Stephen Clark, director of plans, programs, requirements and assessments for Air Force Special Operations Command.
"The strongest take-away from this incident," Mattis said in a statement, "is the fundamental fact that we must improve border coordination, and this requires a foundational level of trust on both sides of the border."
On the night of Nov. 25-26, an Afghan National Army Commando company, partnered with U.S. Army Special Forces, landed near Maya Village in Afghanistan's Khas Konar District in an area of operations assigned by ISAF to its Regional Command-East.
According to the report, these ground forces were executing Operation Sayaqa, approved by ISAF Joint Command headquarters, when they came under fire from positions on a ridge near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
In self defense they used air support to engage the ridgeline positions. The air engagement ended 90 minutes later and had included about 45 minutes of fire. Fire from positions near the ridge had stopped. Eventually, it became clear from various information exchanges that those engaged at the ridge were Pakistan military personnel.
In the early hours of Nov. 26, the report said, supporting aircraft pulled back from the border area and Pakistani authorities reinforced their border positions and reportedly removed 24 dead and 13 wounded.
The ground forces completed Operation Sayaqa. They left the area shortly after midnight on Nov. 27, arriving back at their base later that morning.
As a result of the investigation and report, Mattis directed Allen to implement the following actions as soon as possible:
- Improve mutual trust among those working in the border areas.
- Clarify authorities, responsibilities and standard operating procedures for command, control and communication in near-border operations and develop formal training exercises and drills.
- Implement a program of full disclosure of all border area facilities and installations on both sides of the border, with systematic updates based on a common database and map.
- Before conducting any operation, direct all future coalition units and formations contemplating near-border area operations to confirm all installations near the border and the planned objective.
- To prevent friendly fire incidents, develop and share with the Pakistan military the common use of force-escalation measures such as show of force and other standard procedures.
- Consider harmonizing ISAF and Operation Enduring Freedom rules of engagement to promote clarity and transparency.
Among the investigation's critical findings are that the international law of armed conflict was respected and that rules of engagement -- directions given to military forces that define the conditions, degree and manner in which force may be used -- were appropriately and legally applied.
The report found that the catalyst for the engagement was the opening of fire by Pakistan soldiers and that their continued fire made the situation worse.
The operation was conducted in support of ISAF campaign objectives, the report said, but the issue of Operation Enduring Freedom rules of engagement in an ISAF campaign causes confusion and friction among coalition partners, the report said, and ISAF and OEF orders, standard operating procedures and directives related to border-area operations lack clarity and precision and were not followed.
Also lacking are time-sensitive senior command override measures for border-area incidents and pre-mission near-border coordination for the operation, according to the report.
A series of miscommunications within the chain of command -- but especially in the area of the border coordination nexus -- delayed confirmation of the identity of the Pakistani forces, the report said.
"In the context of this tragedy, a way forward must be found to prevent similar occurrences in the future," Clark said in his concluding comments.
"Over the long term," he added, "the way to ... peace and stability along the border is to be found in resolving the long-standing border disputes that perpetuate a state of uncertainty and mistrust within which local cooperation and coordination efforts are less likely to succeed."