ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – The U.S.-led military coalition in Afghanistan released video footage Thursday that appears to show men firing on Afghan troops from a mountain ridge near the country’s disputed northeastern border with Pakistan, prompting a U.S. airstrike that Pakistan has blamed for the deaths of 11 of its soldiers.
The footage, shot by a circling drone, was issued after Pakistani government officials had unleashed a torrent of criticism over the U.S. military operation. Details of the battle, which occurred late Tuesday and has threatened to further destabilize the U.S.-Pakistan alliance, remain in dispute.
Only a few minutes long, the video shows about six or seven men firing rifles and rocket-propelled grenades at unseen coalition troops from an area overlooking a valley in Afghanistan’s Konar province, about 200 yards from the Pakistani border. The grainy, black-and-white video then shows several bombs being dropped on what the U.S. military says were “anti-Afghan militants” in the area.
According to the video’s voice-over, the action takes place near a Pakistani military checkpoint on a patch of land that has long been a source of contention between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Neither the checkpoint nor any other structures are visible in the video excerpts. But several people are seen moving cautiously along a mountain ridge.
The voice-over says the coalition forces were on a reconnaissance mission and returned fire as they tried to pull out to a point where a helicopter could remove them.
The airstrike occurred after the gunmen fled over the porous border into Pakistan.
Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, chief spokesman for the Pakistani army, said Thursday that military officials are reviewing the video footage and the Pentagon and State Department responses “and will decide how to proceed after that review.”
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said through a spokesman Thursday that he had discussed the operation with his American counterpart, Ambassador Anne Patterson, on Wednesday evening and lodged a formal protest.
“It was an unprovoked attack and gross violation of Pakistani borders,” said the spokesman, Muhammad Sadiq. “The senseless use of air power by the coalition forces is totally unacceptable.”
U.S. officials in Washington and Islamabad appeared unable to agree on how to respond. Defense Department officials said the attack was legitimate and avoided reference to Pakistani military casualties.
National security adviser Stephen Hadley, speaking to reporters in Rome, said the United States had “not been able to corroborate” the deaths of Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan border.
“It’s still not exactly clear what happened,” Hadley said. “At this point we’re still trying to get to the bottom of what happened. The reports, even from sources within the U.S. government, are conflicting.”
In Brussels, where he was attending a NATO meeting, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Pakistan and Afghanistan have been invited to join the U.S. investigation of the airstrike.