US must reduce trust deficit with Pak Army: US commander

Washington: The US forces in Afghanistan must build greater trust and communications with the Pakistan Army to prevent "friendly-fire" incidents, a top US commander has said, amid a diplomatic row following a cross-border NATO air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

General James Mattis, Commander of the US Central Command (CENTCOM), directed General John Allen, who heads the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, to improve their coordination with Pakistan and take steps to enhance the level of trust between the forces on both sides of the porous border.

"Implement a programme of full disclosure of all border area facilities and installations – including installations on both sides of the border with systematic updates based on a common data base and map, and incorporating periodic reciprocal coordination visits," Mattis asked Allen.

"The strongest take-away from this incident is the fundamental fact that we must improve border coordination and this requires a foundational level of trust on both sides of the border," Mattis was quoted as saying in a statement.

Simultaneously, the CENTCOM also released the report of its investigation into the November 25 incident on the Af-Pak border in which 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed by NATO forces in a cross-border fire.

The incident resulted in furious reaction from Pakistan, which retaliated by closing down the Shamsi air base and the NATO supply route.

CENTCOM, which oversees US military operations across a wide swath of North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, said Mattis asked Allen to implement a series of correctives measures with immediate effect, including establishing an environment of improved, mutual trust among stakeholders working in the border areas expanding upon existing confidence-building measures.

General Allen, who heads the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, has also been asked to clarify authorities, responsibilities, and standard operating procedures for Command, Control and Communication in near-border operations.

Develop formal individual training, collective training exercises and drills to practice and gain confidence with cross-border coordination and deconfliction.

Allen has been asked to direct all future coalition units and formations contemplating near-border area operations to establish positive confirmation of all permanent/semi- permanent installations located near both the boarder and planned objective prior to the conduct of any operation or approval of any CONOP.

Gen Mattis, the Commander of CENTCOM, has asked Allen to develop and share with Pakistan military if possible the common use of force escalation measures, such as show of force and such other standard procedures as needed to prevent friendly fire incidents. He has also been directed to consider harmonizing, where feasible, ISAF and OEF Rules of Engagement to promote clarity and transparency.

A joint US-NATO investigation made public last week revealed a disastrous spate of errors and botched communication in which both sides failed to inform the other about their operational plans or the location of troops.