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Pakistan says NATO ignored its pleas to hold off during attack that killed 24 soldiers
ISLAMABAD (AP) ' The NATO airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers went on for almost two hours and continued even after Pakistani commanders had pleaded with coalition forces to stop, the army claimed Monday in charges that could further inflame anger in Pakistan.
NATO has apologized for the deaths in Saturday's incident and promised a full investigation. The coalition has yet to give its side of the story, but unnamed Afghan officials have said that a joint Afghan-NATO force on the Afghan side of the border received incoming fire from the direction of the Pakistani posts, and called in airstrikes.
Ties between Pakistan and the United States were already deteriorating before the deadly attack and have sunk to new lows since, delivering a major setback to American hopes of enlisting Islamabad's help in negotiating an end to the 10-year old Afghan war.
Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said the Pakistani troops at two border posts were the victims of unprovoked aggression. He said the attack lasted almost two hours and that commanders had contacted NATO counterparts while it was going on, asking "they get this fire to cease, but somehow it continued."
The strikes have added to popular anger in Pakistan against the U.S.-led coalition presence in Afghanistan.
Many in the army, parliament, general population and media already believed that the U.S. and NATO are hostile to Pakistan and that the Afghan Taliban are not the enemy. Pakistani army accounts of the incident have strengthened this narrative, showing the level of mistrust between Islamabad and the coalition forces.
Abbas dismissed Afghanistan's claims that the joint Afghan-NATO troops were fired upon first.
"At this point, NATO and Afghanistan are trying to wriggle out of the situation by offering excuses," he said. "Where are their casualties?"
The poorly defined, mountainous border has been a constant source of tension between Pakistan and the United States.
NATO officials have complained that insurgents fire from across the frontier, often from positions close to Pakistani soldiers who have been accused of tolerating or supporting the militants.
Hours after the attacks on Saturday, Pakistan closed its western border to trucks delivering supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan, demanded that the U.S. abandon an air base inside Pakistan used to operate drone strikes and said it will review its cooperation with the U.S. and NATO.
However, a complete breakdown in the relationship between the United States and Pakistan is considered unlikely. Pakistan relies on billions of dollars in American aid, and the U.S. needs Pakistan to push Afghan insurgents to participate in peace talks.