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US splits blame for NATO strike, offers no apology

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Washington : Even as a Pentagon report sought to split the blame for last month’s deadly NATO strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, Washington refused to apologise for the incident that had plunged US-Pakistani relations to a new low.

The US military report released on Thursday concluded that US forces “acted in self defence and with appropriate force after being fired upon” when they attacked.

Islamabad has demanded an apology for the Nov 26 incident, which led to a closure of border crossings used to bring supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan and the expulsion of US troops from a base in southern Pakistan used for drone attacks.

Air Force Brig Gen Stephen Clark, who led the US probe, told reporters Thursday there were two key elements that contributed to the incident.

First, a mistake by a US officer that led to Pakistani officials being given the wrong location for the US attack, and second the “overarching lack of trust” between the two sides that made American commanders reluctant to share precise locations of their troops with Pakistani officers.

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Pentagon officials expressed “our deepest regret” for the loss of life and the lack of proper coordination that led to it. But like other US officials, including President Barack Obama, before he declined to “apologise” for the incident.

Asked if the US would offer an apology to Pakistan after the Pentagon report, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said: “I would just say – and we have said – we’ve expressed our deep regret.”

However, Toner declined to “apologise” and in response to persistent questioning kept repeating “I think there’s a shared responsibility in this incident, and we’ve said very clearly that we accept responsibility for the mistakes that we made.”

Asked what was the diplomatic distinction between ‘regret’ and ‘apology’, Toner said: “I think we regret speaks to a sense of sympathy with the Pakistani people. I don’t know an apology – you can figure that out for your own.”

Toner also declined “to speak to the accuracy” of a New York Times report that the decision not to issue an actual apology came from the White House over the State Department’s objections as an apology would be a political liability for the President in an election year.

Even as a US military report sought to split the blame for the Nov 26 incident, Washington refused to apologise for the last month’s dealdly NATO strike that killed 24 Pak soldiers.

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