Pakistan's army is lashing back at media reports suggesting Saturday's deadly cross-border NATO airstrike was a response to an attack from Pakistan.
Reports appearing in the British Guardian newspaper and the U.S. Wall Street Journal angered Pakistani military leaders Monday, by citing unnamed Afghan and Western sources as saying Pakistan fired first.
"This is not true, they are making up excuses," said Major General Athar Abbas, a spokesman for Pakistan's armed forces. "By the way, what are their losses, their casualties?"
NATO helicopter gunships and jet fighters based in Afghanistan are said to have fired on two Pakistani military posts in the Mohmand region near the Afghan border on Saturday, killing 24 soldiers. Major General Abbas says the assault lasted nearly two hours.
Colonel Gary Kolb, a spokesman for the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, in Afghanistan, would neither confirm nor deny the reports suggesting Pakistan fired first, and said it is too early to speculate on what happened.
“We are going to let the investigation run its course," said Kolb. "That's the purpose of the investigation, to get all the facts, and it has got the highest priority of the ISAF commander right now. We want to make sure we are clear on what went on in the incident."
Public anger in Pakistan over the killings is high. Islamabad has ordered the United States to vacate a Pakistan airbase it uses, and has indefinitely closed the two main overland routes NATO uses to send nonlethal supplies to Afghanistan.
Senior leaders in Pakistan, under domestic pressure to take a strong stand, say they are completely reevaluating the terms of engagement with the United States. But experts say Pakistan needs the billions of dollars it receives annually from Washington as much as the U.S. needs Pakistan's help in pursuing militants, making a serious long-term downturn in the relationship unlikely.
Pakistan's main ally, China, expressed its hope Monday for a thorough and properly handled investigation. Hong Lei, a spokesman at the foreign ministry in Beijing, says China was deeply shocked by the incident, and expresses strong concern for the victims and profound condolences for Pakistan.