Document:Pakistan Military version of Border Post Attack
Review of NATO attack
It will be recalled that in order to multiply pressure on Pakistan, western border was deliberately heated up by strategic partners sitting in Kabul. Between May and September 2011, tens of deadly raids had been conducted by Waliur Rehman and Maulvi Faqir led militants based in safe haven of Kunar and Fazlullah led militants based in Nuristan duly backed by Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS), RAAM, Afghan regime and NATO. Levies employed on border duties and villagers were cruelly killed by militants. Kabul and ISAF HQ were repeatedly requested to control cross border terrorism and to close down sanctuaries of anti-Pakistan militants in Kunar and Nuristan, but no heed was paid. Perforce, GHQ deployed regular troops in Mehmand and Chitral and cleared the restive areas of the presence of undesirables. 7 AK Regiment was deployed in Mehmand Agency closer to Afghan border. It established several border posts to keep a watch over possible infiltration routes.
Two posts volcano and Boulder were set up ahead of Salala village in Mohmand Agency on a barren ridgeline about 8000 feet in height in a manner that they leaned forward on the forward slope so as to effectively cover the valley running from east to west effectively. The two posts, each comprising about platoon strength of 34 soldiers were so deployed to cover northwestern and northeastern approaches. The weapons were sighted in a manner to be able to bring down enfilade and grazing fire in the valley. One post covered the exit point of the valley in the west; the second post covered the eastern edge at the entry point. Company HQ with a platoon was in depth. The posts located on a dominating feature enjoyed excellent line of sight and arc of fire. The two posts also acted as the screen of the battalion.
The valley was frequented by TTP militants together with ANA trained Afghan militants based in Kunar. This route was the shortest and safest from Kunar and led straight to heart of Mehmand Agency wherefrom the infiltrators had multiple choices to either strike within that tribal agency, or Bajaur, or Upper or Lower Dir. Deeper targets of Malakand, Buner, Swat or even Chitral and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa could also be reached via Mehmand.
As a consequence to deployment of the two posts, several attempts by militants to sneak through the valley were successfully blocked. As a result, cross border movement had ceased from mid October onwards. Blockage of the main passageway resulted in assembly of large numbers of militants belonging to TTP in Kunar who were getting desperate to enter Pakistan. Karzai regime, NDS and Afghan National Army (ANA) were also boiling with anger after attacks on NDS HQ and murder of Prof Rabbani in Kabul and wanted to settle scores.
In order to seek assistance from NATO, NDS and RAW passed false information to CIA that Pakistan sponsored militants were using Salala-Kunar route to create unrest in Kunar and other regions of Eastern Afghanistan. It was also conveyed that the two Pakistani posts at Salala were not only providing cover to the infiltrators but also preventing the movement of their fighters into Mehmand. Based on this input, a comprehensive plan was hatched in Kabul to provide covering fire to the batch of over 100 militants and ensure their safe entry. It was also planned to destroy the two posts so as to remove the irritants for good.
As a cover plan, a mockup operation by ANA was conducted in Kunar province from 25 November onwards. NATO air cover was made part of the operation. The area was well away from Salala area and deep inside Afghan territory and Pakistan Army was conveyed about it in advance. Just before dawn on night of 25/26th, when all the soldiers were fast asleep except for the sentries on duty, two Apache helicopters suddenly crossed the border and started firing at the two posts indiscriminately. The helicopters remained at a safe distance for fear of being hit by an ack ack gun or a surface-to-air missile. The helicopters were backed by four other combat helicopters and close air support was provided by F-18s. No sooner fire came on the posts, a field officer commanding the two posts instantly contacted the ISAF and informed that Pakistani posts were being attacked and fire must cease. But firing continued for one hour.
During this period, bulk of infiltrating force along with donkeys laden with ammunition and explosives moved passed the valley. By that time, urgent messages had been sent by GHQ on hotline and the helicopters turned back. When the helicopters went away and dust settled down, the defenders detected movement in the valley. The stragglers had still not gone past the valley and as such were brought under coordinated fire. On receipt of distress signal from the militants, the helicopters returned and plastered the two posts with ATGMs with a vengeance for next thirty minutes. 24 soldiers including one Major and one subaltern died and 16 soldiers received serious injuries.
In order to obfuscate facts the NATO has taken a plea as an afterthought that helicopters responded to the hostile fire coming from the posts. There was no reason for the defenders to open fire at the helicopters without any provocation. If one agrees to the NATO’s preposterous contention for argument sake, the fast moving and highly maneuverable helicopters with anti-armor and anti-aircraft protection could have easily moved away out of the range of the weapons deployed on ground.
If it was unintentional, as claimed by NATO leadership, why couldn’t the helicopters equipped with night fighting capability see Pakistani flag fluttering on top of a post and soldiers dressed in uniform, particularly when each flying helicopter/jet/cargo plane carry marked map showing the border and border posts? If the helicopters came in response to the call made by ANA, how come the attackers attacked the static posts atop a ridgeline? In these ten years the NATO should have learnt that Taliban never take up static defences and that too on hilltops. They prefer caves and valleys. If the helicopters made a mistake once, why was the mistake repeated? If the map reference of Salala posts was marked wrongly by Border Coordination Centre, or passed wrongly by NATO liaison officer, why the massacre continued for ninety minutes when NATO HQ was frenetically informed on hotline at multiple levels including GHQ to get the fire stopped forthwith?
Since the real purpose was to give covering fire to the infiltrators, heads of the troops manning the posts were pinned down to facilitate unobserved and unhindered movement of infiltrators carrying their extra baggage on donkeys. It will be sheer under estimation of NATO power to take nearly two hours to destroy posts made of cement blocks and strengthened by sand bags. It was a willful massacre and it didn’t end on 26 November. The terrorists that managed to sneak in on that night are now busy carrying out terrorist attacks in Kyhber Pakhtunkwa, Khyber Agency and other nearby areas.
The inquest carried out by ISAF’s Brig Stephen Clark apportions equal blame on both sides and wrongfully maintains that the fire was in self-defence. The US accepts several omissions made by attackers but terms all of them coincidental and affixes partial responsibility on Pakistan. It is inconceivable that the ISAF with best technology was unaware of the existence of two posts. The US officials consistently stated that the attack was unintentional before and during the course of inquiry thereby influencing the investigating team. The US wants Pakistan Army to accept this factually incorrect report based on half-truths. Mercifully, the Army and the government are on one page. Not only the report has been rejected, the government has taken bold and appropriate steps to checkmate America’s bellicosity and aggressive unilateralism.
The writer is a retired Brigadier and a defence analyst.