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December 22 Defense Department Briefing

By The Pentagon, The Pentagon - December 22, 2011

            (Note:  General Clark appears via teleconference.)

            GEORGE LITTLE:  Good morning.  Today we are joined via telephone by Brigadier Stephen A. Clark, United States Air Force.  General Clark was appointed by General Mattis late last month to serve as the U.S. investigating officer into the 25-26 November engagement between U.S. and Pakistani military forces.  

            General Clark is the director of plans, programs, requirements and assessments for Air Force Special Operations Command.  He's a command pilot, with more than 3,500 flight hours in eight different fixed-wing aircraft.  He joins us this morning from Hurlburt Field, Florida.  

            Before I turn it over to General Clark, I want to convey in person what we've already said in writing.  The investigation into the 25-26 November engagement between U.S. and Pakistani military forces across the border has been completed.  The findings and conclusions were forwarded to the department through the chain of command.  The results have also been shared with the Pakistani and Afghan governments, as well as key NATO leadership.  

            The investigating officer found that U.S. forces, given what information they had available to them at the time, acted in self- defense and with appropriate force after being fired upon.  He also found that there was no intentional effort to target persons or places known to be part of the Pakistani military or to deliberately provide inaccurate location information to Pakistani officials.

            Nevertheless, inadequate coordination by U.S. and Pakistani military officers operating through the border coordination center, including our reliance on incorrect mapping information shared with the Pakistani liaison officer, resulted in a misunderstanding about the true location of Pakistani military units.

            This, coupled with other gaps in information about the activities and placement of units from both sides contributed to the tragic results.

            For the loss of life and for the lack of proper coordination between U.S. and Pakistani forces that contributed to those losses, we express our deepest regret.  We further express sincere condolences to the Pakistani people, to the Pakistani government and, most importantly, to the families of the Pakistani soldiers who were killed or wounded.

            Our focus now is to learn from these mistakes and take whatever corrective measures are required to ensure an incident like this is not repeated.  The chain of command will consider any issues of accountability.

            More critically, we must work to improve the level of trust between our two countries.  We cannot operate effectively on the border or in other parts of our relationship without addressing the fundamental trust still lacking between us.  We earnestly hope the Pakistani military will join us in bridging that gap.

            With that, I'd like to turn it over to General Clark for his opening comments, and then we'll come back here to the Pentagon and start taking your questions.

            General Clark, can you hear me this morning?

            BRIGADIER GENERAL STEPHEN CLARK:  I certainly can.  Thank you.

            MR. LITTLE:  Thank you.  Go ahead and begin, please.  Over to you.

            GEN. CLARK:  OK.  Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  Again, I'm Brigadier General Clark out of Air Force Special Operations Command. I was appointed the investigating officer for this incident.

            What I'd like to do is quickly run you through how we put together the investigative team and the process that we followed and then kind of walk you through a narrative of the chain of events that led to it.  Keep in mind, please, that it is a fairly complicated situation to piece all the different moving parts together and to understand, in a human endeavor, how people communicated and what they heard, which is kind of key to this. 

            But the investigative team came together in Kabul.  We were able to put together a team from CENTCOM but then also from ISAF.  Joint Force Command Brunssum sent over a team of approximately five people.  I worked with Brigadier General Mike Jorgensen as -- our teams working together to do the investigation.  They had specific requirements that they had to answer back through their chain of command, and then I had very specific requirements to answer back through -- back to General Mattis.  

            With the investigation itself, we staged out of Bagram principally, but while we were in Kabul, we had the opportunity to interview the commander of ISAF and the commander of the IJC, which is International [sic -- ISAF] Joint Command, so General Allen as commander, ISAF, and then Lieutenant General Scaparrotti as commander of IJC.  

            We then went to Bagram, where we spent most of our time, because that's where most of the forces and the headquarters were.  We talked to the Regional Command East commander and his senior staff.  We talked to all the SOF (Special Operations Forces) commanders, all staff elements related to both of those commands.  We talked to every tactical element on the U.S. and ISAF that were involved, plus their technical headquarters, and we went out to the Nawa Border Coordination Center to talk to them specifically and take a look at their setup.  In total, we conducted approximately 60 interviews. 

            I think, at the end of the day, when the report's released, you'll find that it is a fairly comprehensive report, fairly detailed and draws some connections there that may not have been obvious in the immediate aftermath of the incident.  It took us quite a while to really piece the nuance of that together.  

            So with that understanding, the chain of events that occurred -- I'll run through those briefly, so that we can get to your questions -- was:  The initial concept of operation was briefed for approval up to the commander of IJC.  Because of its proximity to the border, it raised to a particular level that required his approval.  With the initial look at the concept of operations, he requested that the helicopter landing zone be moved further away from the border, and it was moved from within 1 kilometer out to 2.3 kilometers from the border.

            He also asked that any known border posts be identified.  Those were worked through the Border Coordination Center and up through the Regional Command East headquarters.  And there were two that were identified.  One was 4 kilometers to the northeast of the village, and the other one was 2 kilometers to the south-southwest.  That is a critical point in part of this, in that the two locations that are in question here were not identified on any chart, to include the official chart in the Nawa Border Coordination Center that is intended to be the compilation of all known border posts.

            After those inquiries were satisfied, the concept of operation was approved and the tactical elements went into their planning for beginning of the operation.  On the night of the 25th, the ground force in-filled.  The CH-47 helicopters -- two helicopters, two lifts, so a total of four, if you will, using the four aircraft, to put the entire force of approximately 120 personnel on the ground.

            The first (truck ?) closed at 9:40 local p.m., with the last lift landing at 10:06 p.m.

            From that point on they consolidated and began their move to the Nawa village, which took approximately about 30 to 45 minutes to get close to the village.  This is in a very steep and rugged terrain.  If I use the term "goat trails," you could get an image of what I'm talking about.  It's narrow, one-person pathways up through very steep and climbing terrain as you approach from the west towards the village in the east.  So going from west towards the -- what is the Pakistani border, you're going up into a valley opening, and then it opens up to the ridgeline.

            So they're climbing uphill in that.  It is a no-moon-illumination night.  The U.S. forces do have their night-vision goggles on, but it's very hard for them to see.  So they're slowly making their way up, and then they split up into two elements, as they had previously planned, so that they can go enter the village from two different locations.

            At about 11:09 p.m., so an hour after they've been on the ground, is when they received the first fires.  And it is -- from the ground tactical leader's perspective, it was very direct and heavy machine- gun fire right over their heads.  He talks about hearing the rounds crack over the top of his head.  So he is now under attack, from his perspective.  From the airborne assets, they identify that the machine-gun fire is coming from the ridgeline.  At the same time the ground force begins to take pretty accurate mortar fire.  It lands within 50 meters of the helicopter landing zone and 150 meters from the tail element, which now effectively splits the force completely into two elements.

            The ground force commander requests two things.  He calls back to his higher headquarters for confirmation that there is no Pakistani military in the area because he understands the fire is coming from the ridgeline that he identifies as the border.

            And while he's waiting for that, he directs a show of force which is -- now he has aircraft already in the area, which was pre-planned, so he has overtop of him an MC-12 twin-engine ISR platform; he has an AC- 130 gunship nearby; he has two F-15 Strike Eagles and he has two AH-64 Apache helicopters.  All these were put in place prior because they did anticipate going into a hostile environment in the village, which was part of the reason they were going there.

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