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US Invites Pakistan, Afghanistan to Join Border Incident Investigation


U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he has invited Pakistan and Afghanistan to join the U.S. investigation of an incident along their border this week, during which U.S. aircraft dropped several bombs and Pakistan says 11 of its troops were killed. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

Secretary Gates says he hopes Pakistan and Afghanistan accept the invitation to join the investigation. "We think all the procedures were followed but that will be for the investigation to decide. And if we need to make changes, we will," he said.

On Wednesday, the secretary's spokesman defended the action, saying early indications were that it was a legitimate strike against forces that were attacking coalition troops on the Afghan side of the border.

Pakistan says some of the American bombs hit one of its border patrol outposts. One Pakistani official called the air strike "unprovoked" and "cowardly."

On Thursday, the U.S. military released a video shot by an unmanned aircraft showing part of the incident. The military added narration. "In the center of your screen you will see five to seven individuals occupying a fighting position and engaging coalition forces towards the bottom of the screen, down the hill," the narration said.

The narrator says the grainy video shows the insurgents shooting several rocket propelled grenades, and then taking four devastating hits from U.S. bombs, whose fireballs fill the screen. "The remaining anti-Afghan forces are engaged with another precision bomb, killing the remaining three. It is clear there are no military structures or outposts in the impact area."

That claim that there are no buildings in the area is important because Pakistan says its troops were killed at a border post.

But the Pentagon acknowledges the video only shows part of the operation. Another American aircraft attacked a different location a couple of kilometers inside Pakistan. A spokesman for U.S. Central Command says there is no video of that part of the operation.

Secretary Gates expressed regret that the incident has created tension with Pakistan. "Pakistan is an incredibly important partner for us in this war on terror. And, personally, I regret that we've had something that has created a problem," he said.

The incident spurred anti-American sentiment in Pakistan, where the government's cooperation in the war on terrorism, particularly within its own borders, was already controversial.

Secretary Gates is in Brussels for a meeting of NATO defense ministers, where the alliance's operation in Afghanistan is a key topic. He says he believes member countries will provide the additional troops they promised during the NATO summit in April. And he says during Thursday's meeting he again urged members to remove the restrictions on how some of the forces deployed to Afghanistan can be used.