Gates invites Pakistan to join airstrike inquiry

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday that he has invited Pakistan and Afghanistan to be part of a U.S. investigation into an airstrike that Pakistani officials say killed 11 of their troops.

The Pentagon chief said he believes all the usual procedures were followed during the military operation against what other U.S. officials have called “anti-coalition forces” on the Afghan side of the border who fled to the Pakistani side.

“We think all the procedures were followed. But that will be for the investigation to decide. And if we need to make changes, we will,” Gates said at a NATO meeting in Brussels.

“Pakistan is an incredibly important partner for us in this war on terror. And personally I regret we've … had an incident that has created a problem between us and the government of Pakistan.”

The top elected official in northwest Pakistan said Thursday that the country should rethink its relationship with America.

Haider Khan Hoti, chief minister of North West Frontier Province, a restive region next to Afghanistan where Islamic militants are strong, said the airstrike was “absolutely naked aggression.”

“After condemnation, we should do some serious rethinking of the ties that we have, because on the one side in the war on terror we are expected to offer them cooperation and on the other hand our security forces are being targeted,” Hoti said in Peshawar.

The U.S. and Pakistan remained at odds in their versions of Tuesday night's clash that led to U.S. planes dropping bombs.

President Bush's national security adviser said that it was not clear exactly what happened and that U.S. officials “have not been able to corroborate” that Pakistani troops died. The U.S. “would be very saddened” if that were true, Stephen Hadley told reporters traveling with Bush in Rome.

He said that the account the U.S. believes is true is this: There was an operation on the Afghan side of the border by “anti-coalition forces” that threatened coalition personnel.

The forces then went “back into Pakistan” and the coalition fighters “tracked and struck those forces.”