(WASHINGTON) — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement today that the U.S. is sorry for the losses the Pakistan military suffered during the Nov. 26 incident last year in which 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed by U.S. military aircraft during a border incident.
Clinton said the incident was discussed in a call with her Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar.
“I once again reiterated our deepest regrets for the tragic incident in Salala last November. I offered our sincere condolences to the families of the Pakistani soldiers who lost their lives,” said Clinton. “Foreign Minister Khar and I acknowledged the mistakes that resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives. We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military.”
The word “sorry” has never been used by the U.S. government since the incident; it instead chose to express regrets and condolences. The Pakistani government has been demanding an apology before it would consider re-opening NATO supply lines to Afghanistan, which were closed after the incident.
Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States, Sherry Rehman, issued a statement that the country accepts Secretary Clinton’s statement and hopes that the two reluctant allies can move forward.
“We appreciate Secretary Clinton’s statement, and hope that bilateral ties can move to a better place from here,” said Reham. “I am confident that both countries can agree on many critical issues, especially on bringing peace to the region.”
Last November, immediately after the incident, Gen. John Allen, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, also expressed deep condolences “to the families and loved ones of any members of Pakistan Security Forces who may have been killed or injured,” and pledged to launch an investigation.
After a month-long American investigation of the border incident that found fault with both the U.S. and Pakistani militaries for the incident, the Pentagon expressed “our deepest regret.” It also issued “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.”
State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said today that she doesn’t want to parse Clinton’s use of the word “sorry,” but said the statement also reiterates the United States position that blame for the incident in November is shared by both countries.
“As the statement makes clear, there were mistakes made on both sides that led to the tragic loss of life, and we are both sorry for those,” said Nuland.
The reopening of the ground supply routes is considered important to the United States, not only for the materials flowing into Afghanistan now, but for the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO materials by the end of 2014.
Clinton’s statement also notes that Pakistan will “continue” to not charge any transit fees for incoming materials. “This will also help the United States and [its allies] conduct the planned drawdown at a much lower cost,” Nuland said.
Transit fees had been a huge obstacle as Pakistan wanted $5,000 per truckload while the U.S. had been paying $250.
Both Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Allen issued statements today welcoming Pakistan’s decision to reopen the ground lines of communication, also known as the GLOC.
Not mentioned in any of the initial statements was whether the U.S. would lift the freeze on Coalition Support Funds that had been in place since July, 2011 when Pakistan ordered out American military trainers. Under the program, the U.S. would reimburse Pakistan for approved expenses it incurred for its counter-terrorism fight against the Pakistan Taliban.
Pakistani press reports Monday said the release of these funds were part of the negotiations between American and Pakistani officials.
With Pakistan reopening the ground supply lines, Pentagon spokesman Captain John Kirby says the U.S. will look at payments to reimburse Pakistan.
“With the GLOCs open, we will look to pay past coalition support fund claims,” says Kirby.
A U.S. official says the Pentagon will submit to Congress $1.1 billion in approved reimbursements for Pakistan, which it will have to sign off on before payments could begin.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Andreas Preuss, CNN
Susan Scutti, CNN