Fully support probe into NATO strike on Pak posts:US

Washington: Seeking to salvage its ties with Pakistan which plunged into crisis after a NATO strike killed 28 Pakistani soldiers, the Obama administration has said it fully backs a probe into the incident that led Islamabad to close NATO supply routes and ask US to vacate a key airbase.

A joint statement issued by the US Departments of State and Defence said that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defence Secretary Leon Panetta "have been closely monitoring reports of the cross-border incident in Pakistan."

"Both offer their deepest condolences for the loss of life and support fully NATO`s intention to investigate (Saturday`s incident) immediately," the statement said.

Following the cross-border strike on two Pakistani border posts by NATO helicopters and combat jets, Islamabad shut down the crucial NATO supply lines and asked the US to vacate its secret Shamsi air based inside Pakistan, which is reportedly used by the CIA for drone strikes, within 15 days.

Clinton, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Martin Dempsey and Commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan Gen John Allen also called their Pakistani counterparts following the incident.

"Secretary Clinton, Gen Dempsey and Gen Allen each called their Pakistani counterparts as well. (US) Ambassador (to Islamabad Cameron) Munter also met with Pakistani government officials in Islamabad. In their contacts, these US diplomatic and military leaders each stressed — in addition to their sympathies and a commitment to review the circumstances of the incident — the importance of the US-Pakistani partnership, which serves the mutual interests of our people," the joint statement said.

All these leaders "pledged to remain in close contact with their Pakistani counterparts going forward as we work through this challenging time," it said.

Pakistan government framed its response to the NATO air strike during an emergency meeting of Defence Committee of the Cabinet chaired by Premier Yousuf Raza Gilani last evening.

The meeting attended by the three service chiefs, including army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, decided to "close with immediate effect the NATO/ISAF logistics supply lines" and asked the "US to vacate the Shamsi airbase within 15 days", said an official statement.

Kayani strongly condemned "NATO/ISAF`s blatant and unacceptable act" and issued orders for taking all necessary steps for "an effective response to this irresponsible act".

Till recently, Pakistani supply routes were used to transport a majority of supplies for US and allied forces in Afghanistan. Following a wave of attacks on supply vehicles and strained ties with Pakistan, the US has stepped up the use of alternative routes in Central Asian countries.

However, hundreds of NATO tankers and supply vehicles continued to cross into Afghanistan from Pakistan every day.

In June also, Pakistan had asked the US to vacate the Shamsi airbase in June.

Secret US cables leaked by WikiLeaks have suggested that the UAE, which has controlled Shamsi airbase since the 1990s, has allowed the US to use it for its drone flights.

Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir lodged with US Ambassador Munter a "strong protest on the unprovoked NATO/ISAF attack." He told the US envoy that the attack had "deeply incensed the government and the people of Pakistan".

Reacting to the incident, NATO said it was "highly likely" that its aircraft were responsible for the raid that killed 28 Pakistan soldiers.

NATO spokesman Brig Gen Carsten Jacobson told BBC the coalition forces in Afghanistan were probing the incident.

In a statement, Gen Allen also said the incident "has my highest personal attention and my commitment to thoroughly investigate it to determine the facts".