New York Times senior reporter on national security and terrorism issues.
The Pentagon has admitted significant responsibility for an attack on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border last month that left 24 Pakistani solders dead. A military investigation found U.S. and Afghan commandos incorrectly determined there were no Pakistani forces in the area before the air strike. U.S. officials then provided inaccurate data to a Pakistani military representative and missed an opportunity to stop the fighting. Pakistan closed its border after the attack, shutting off a supply line to troops in Afghanistan. New York Times reporter Eric Schmitt, who has just returned from Pakistan, says the report details just the latest in a string of incidents that could hurt Pakistani-U.S. ties. "It’s going to be very difficult to see how they’re going to work their way out of this now, despite the important relationship that the U.S. and Pakistan has not only over counterterrorism priorities, but also given that Pakistan is a nuclear state, and there’s a lot of concern if those nuclear weapons or any nuclear material were ever to fall into militant hands." [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Eric Schmitt, you just returned from Pakistan Tuesday. I want to ask you about the announcement that’s just happening, as you leave here to go off to the news conference, where the U.S. will admit significant responsibility for the attack on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border last month that left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead. Explain the significance of this announcement and what you found in Pakistan.
ERIC SCHMITT: Yeah, what’s significant about this announcement is, of course, this was the air strike on a remote Pakistani outpost that killed some 26 Pakistani soldiers. There’s been disputed versions of what happened. Both have been kind of played out in the media up to now. But early this morning, the Pentagon has released its report, basically acknowledging that the United States, whose aircraft were involved in this strike, made errors in targeting, basically passing incorrect coordinates on to the Pakistanis to check to see if there were some of their soldiers on the ground, and making an initial conclusion that there were no Pakistanis in the area of fire, to begin with.
The report also blames, however, that Pakistan fired the first shots on this Afghan-led party, a patrol on the ground that had U.S. Special Forces with it, apparently because they were not informed, as they should have been by the NATO alliance, that this patrol was in the neighborhood. So here you are on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan in a remote outpost. There were reports of large numbers of Taliban nearby. You can imagine these Pakistanis were quite jittery. And there’s a patrol on the ground and suddenly shows up. So, unfortunately, this is, as these things usually are, a series of mistakes and mishaps that compound themselves.
Interestingly enough, however, I just read the official Defense Department statement, and even though they do acknowledge errors by the U.S. forces, they also say that this was not a deliberate strike, which is what the Pakistanis have claimed all along, and that basically they were—the Americans were going on the best information they had and used the appropriate force, which was quite a bit of force—AC-130 gunships and attack helicopters here. So, no doubt, this is going to cause quite a stir in Pakistan beyond what it already has.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And how has this affected the relationships, the closing of the U.S. drone base by Pakistan? How do you see that, having just arrived from there?
ERIC SCHMITT: Yeah, well, it’s just the latest in a string of mishaps and unfortunate incidents throughout. This made this year probably the worst year for U.S.-Pakistani relations, going back to the arrest and the incident involving Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor who shot and killed two Pakistanis in the streets of Lahore, followed then by the May 2nd commando raid by Navy SEALs that killed Osama bin Laden—it deeply embarrassed and angered the Pakistanis—to comments earlier this summer by Admiral Mike Mullen basically equating the Haqqani Network, which is a militant group in Pakistan, is basically a veritable arm of the Pakistani spy agency. And then, finally, this latest incident, of course, this air strike killing 26 Pakistani soldiers, has just forced this relationship—you know, plummeted to the lowest depths it’s been, you know, in recent memory, really. And it’s going to be very difficult to see how they’re going to work their way out of this now, despite the important relationship that the U.S. and Pakistan has not only over counterterrorism priorities, but also given that Pakistan is a nuclear state, and there’s a lot of concern if those nuclear weapons or any nuclear material were ever to fall into militant hands.
AMY GOODMAN: Eric, I know you have to leave. Reuters is just reporting this morning exclusively, the Pakistan army wants Zardari out, but not with a coup, fed up with the unpopular president. The significance with this?
ERIC SCHMITT: Well, this was a story I reported on over the weekend. He, President Zardari, rushed back from some medical treatment in the U.A.E. to face these allegations, charges, of course, that were aired in a memo penned by a Pakistani-American businessman that claimed that he was put up by the then-U.S. ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani, but basically saying that—calling on the Obama administration for help to avert a coup, after the raid that killed bin Laden. Both sides, both the military and the civilian side of the government in Pakistan, have denied they have anything to do with this memo. But it’s set off a huge debate in Pakistan and put both sides, you know, on edge, but particularly the government, the very weak civilian government, of President Zardari, who many are now calling for him to be removed. And so, this is kind of the latest escalation, apparently, of that whole development.
AMY GOODMAN: And Kim Jong-il, the relationship between North Korea and Pakistan, if you can in 30 seconds? I know you have to race off to the news conference.
ERIC SCHMITT: Yeah, I really do. It’s—again, there’s the whole relationship with their nuclear program and to what extent, you know, the Pakistanis shared information about their nuclear program with the North Koreans, and vice versa, you know, working back and forth. So, obviously concern over that, in the broadest terms.
AMY GOODMAN: Eric Schmitt, I want to thank you very much for being with us, just back from Pakistan, senior writer at the New York Times, covers terrorism and national security issues. He’s headed now to the news conference where the U.S. is announcing culpability in the bombing of the 24—the killing of the 24 Pakistani soldiers.
This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we’re going to be talking about rendition. The rendition of Americans by the U.S. government to foreign countries? We’ll also look at Sheriff Arpaio. We’ll be going to Phoenix, Arizona, and what’s happening there. Stay with us.