Pakistan-Afghanistan Border Still Closed, Despite U.S. Apology

October 7, 2010 - 5:51 AM

Pakistan oil tankers

Pakistani soldiers stand near burning NATO oil tankers attacked by militants near Peshawar, Pakistan on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2010. (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)

Islamabad (AP) - Pakistan said Thursday it has not decided when to reopen a key border crossing NATO uses to ship supplies to Afghanistan despite a U.S. apology for a helicopter attack that killed two Pakistani soldiers.

Both the U.S. and NATO expressed their condolences Wednesday for the Sept. 30 attack and said American helicopters mistook the Pakistani soldiers for insurgents being pursued across the Afghan border.

The apologies raised expectations that the Torkham border crossing along the famed Khyber Pass could reopen very soon. But Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit said Thursday during a news conference that authorities were still evaluating the situation and would make a decision "in due course."

The delay could be short-lived since U.S. and Pakistani officials predicted the border crossing would be reopened in a matter of days even before the apologies were issued.

Pakistan closed Torkham to NATO supply convoys on the same day as the attack, leaving hundreds of trucks stranded alongside the country's highways or stuck in traffic on the way to the one route into Afghanistan from the south that has remained open.

Suspected militants have taken advantage of the impasse to attack stranded or rerouted trucks. Gunmen torched 70 fuel tankers and killed a driver in two attacks Wednesday.

The U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, said in a statement Wednesday that "we extend our deepest apology to Pakistan and the families of the Frontier Scouts who were killed and injured."

The U.S. and NATO issued apologies after their investigation found that the Pakistani soldiers fired at the two U.S. helicopters prior to the attack, likely trying to notify the aircraft of their presence after the copters entered Pakistani airspace several times.

The head of the investigation -- U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Tim Zadalis, NATO's director for air plans in Afghanistan -- said the "tragic event" could have been avoided with better coordination with the Pakistani military.

The head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, pledged to work with the Pakistani military and government to make sure it doesn't happen again.

NATO officials have insisted the border closure has not caused supply problems for troops since hundreds of trucks still cross into Afghanistan each day through the Chaman crossing in southwestern Pakistan and via Central Asian states.

But reopening Torkham is definitely a priority for NATO because it is the main crossing in Pakistan, the country through which NATO ships the majority of its supplies into Afghanistan. Other routes are more expensive and logistically difficult.