The Cable

U.S. still won’t say “I’m sorry” for killing 24 Pakistani soldiers

The Pentagon issued its report on the Nov. 25 raid where NATO forces killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at an outpost along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, admitting that the U.S. military made mistakes that led to the incident. The Pentagon and State Department "deeply regret" the attack, but refuse to accede to Pakistani demands they issue an explicit apology.

"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," the Pentagon said in a Thursday statement about the incident, which has pushed U.S.-Pakistani relations to new lows and has resulted in Pakistan cutting off supply lines for NATO forces in Afghanistan, which are still closed.

U.S. and NATO investigators found that the NATO forces "acted in self defense and with appropriate force after being fired upon." The investigators also determined "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."

That quote refers to the Pakistani claim that NATO identified a location for the attack nine miles away from where they were actually attacking, which is what led to Pakistan telling NATO there were no Pakistani troops there troops in the area they were attacking.

The NATO explanation of the incident directly conflicts with the Pakistani military's own account of the incident, as explained by a Pakistani defense official to reporters in Washington last week. Pakistan's military has concluded that the NATO helicopters and planes strafed two Pakistani outposts intentionally, and they say that repeated pleas by Pakistani officials to halt the operation as it was being carried out were ignored.

At a Thursday morning briefing, Air Force Brig. Gen. Stephen Clark, who led the investigation, acknowledged that NATO was using the wrong map template and therefore gave the Pakistanis the wrong location during the attack

Clark also said there was reluctance to share the information about the ongoing attack with the Pakistani side because of an "overarching lack of trust" between the two militaries. The report said both sides had made mistakes during the incident due to poor coordination and communication.

At the State Department today, reporters pressed spokesman Mark Toner to explain why the U.S. government won't just say "I'm sorry," as the Pakistanis are demanding.

"We've expressed our deep regret for the loss of life and for the lack of proper coordination between the U.S. and Pakistani forces that contributed to these losses. And you know, we do accept responsibility for the mistakes that we made," said Toner. "I think there's a shared responsibility in this incident."

The New York Times reported last month that the State Department and U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter had urged the White House to issue an apology to quell Pakistani outrage, at both the official and the popular level, but the Pentagon objected.

The U.S. government is working hard behind the scenes to smooth over relations. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey called Pakistani Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani on Wednesday and offered to send a briefing team to Islamabad. CENTCOM Commander Gen. James Mattis also called Kayani. Munter spoke with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar.

After being pressed several times on the question of the difference between expressing "regret" and issuing an "apology," Toner finally parsed it out the best he could.

"I think ‘we regret' speaks to a sense of sympathy with the Pakistani people, I mean, in this case, but more broadly with the people affected by any incident or tragedy and, you know, speaks to the fact that we're accepting responsibility for any of our actions that may have contributed to it," said Toner. "I don't know -- an apology -- you know, you can figure that out for your own. I can only say what we're trying to express through this investigation and through the conclusion of this investigation."

"It's pretty clear from this entire conversation that you're under orders not to use the words ‘sorry' or ‘apologize,'" one reporter said to Toner.

Toner's only response to that was: "Ok. Next question?"

AFP/Getty Images

The Cable

U.S. government offering $10 million for al Qaeda money man in Iran

Have you seen this man, accused al Qaeda financier Yasin al-Suri? If so, information leading to his location, suspected to be inside Iran, will get you up to $10 million from the U.S. government.

Suri, also known as Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil, is one of six al Qaeda officials linked to Iran that the U.S. Treasury Department designated for sanctions back in July. According to two U.S. officials who briefed reporters today, he stands at the center of the link between the Iranian government and al Qaeda. That's why the State and Treasury Departments are putting out this bounty as part of their Rewards for Justice program.

"From his sanctuary inside Iran, he has moved terrorist recruits through Iran to al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He has also arranged for the release of al Qaeda operatives from Iranian prisons and their transfer to Pakistan. And he has funneled significant amounts of money through Iran to AQ leadership in Afghanistan and Iraq," said Robert A. Hartung, assistant director for threat investigations and analysis at State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security. "Locating al-Suri and shutting down his operations would eliminate a significant financial resource for al Qaeda."

The announcement highlights the U.S. government's strategy of exposing the links between the Iranian government and al Qaeda.

"We have reliable information indicating that there is an agreement between the Iranian government and this al Qaeda network [led by Suri]," said Eytan Fisch, Treasury's assistant director of terrorism and financial intelligence. This is the first reward put forth for a terrorist financier, he added.

But Fisch couldn't say whether the sanctions levied against Iran-linked al Qaeda operatives in July have yielded any results. The sanctions only apply to funds held in the United States, and Treasury won't say if they have found any such funds.

"We don't generally comment on whether funds are frozen and if so, how much," said Fisch,

"That kind of makes it impossible to tell whether it has actually been effective," noted AP reporter Matt Lee.

It's also unclear what the U.S. government would do if and when Suri's location becomes known. If he is living inside Iran with the assistance of the Iranian government, would the U.S. government go in and get him?

"Once we receive information, that's provided to other government agencies to handle that information and decide how to act," said Hartung. "I can't answer questions about what they will do with that information."

Several reporters at the briefing noted that the $10 million reward is much higher than the "hundreds of thousands of dollars" that Fisch said Suri has alleged to have moved to al Qaeda. Wouldn't it be a financially smart decision for al Qaeda to turn him in itself, and pocket the profit?

"In general terms, anyone is available to receive a reward," said Hartung. He said there is some review of award recipients, but didn't give any details.

"So Mullah Omar, if he turns this guy in, isn't going to get the reward?" asked Lee.

"Correct," replied State Department spokesman Mark Toner. "And vice-versa."

If any Cable readers have a tip on Suri's location, you can tell the U.S. government by going to www.rewardsforjustice.net, e-mailing rfj@state.gov, or calling the RFJ tip line in Afghanistan at 0800 108 600. The program has paid more than $100 million to more than 70 people since it began in 1984, Hartung said.

Other aliases used by Suri include: Yassen al-Suri, Izz al-Din Abd al-Farid Khalil, and Zayn al-Abadin. The only other two alleged terrorists who have warranted a $10 million award are Taliban leader Mullah Omar and Abu Du'a, the alleged head of al Qaeda in Iraq.