Clinton calls Pakistan prime minister over NATO air strike deaths

Pakistan, reacting to fury from its people over the NATO airstrike that killed 24 of its troops, shut down NATO’s vital supply line into Afghanistan and has boycotted an international conference focused on the Afghan war. (Reuters)

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Saturday, again offering U.S. condolences over the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers in NATO air strikes last week, the State Department said in a statement.

The attack sparked fury in Pakistan and complicated U.S.-led efforts to ease a crisis in relations with Islamabad, still seething at a secret U.S. raid in May that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and stabilize the region before foreign combat troops leave Afghanistan in 2014.

Clinton “once again expressed condolences to the families of the soldiers and to the Pakistani people for the tragic and unintended loss of life in Mohmand last weekend,” the State Department said in a brief statement.

“She reiterated America’s respect for Pakistan’s sovereignty and commitment to working together in pursuit of shared objectives on the basis of mutual interest and mutual respect.”

The United States and NATO have promised to investigate the incident, expressing regret at the deaths of Pakistani soldiers. But the White House has said it was premature to consider an apology when an investigation was still in its early stages.

Islamabad has so far refused to take part in a U.S. probe and the incident has exacerbated fears of a prolonged crisis between Pakistan and the United States.

Pakistan, reacting to fury from its people over the attack, shut down NATO’s vital supply line into Afghanistan and also ordered American personnel to leave Shamsi air base, widely understood to have been a hub for a covert CIA drone war on Taliban and al-Qaeda commanders in Pakistan’s troubled border areas with Afghanistan.

Clinton’s phone call came two days before an international conference in Germany on the future of Afghanistan - a conference Pakistan is boycotting because of the incident.

Islamabad is considered key to bringing the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table due to its historic ties to the militia and claims that elements in its military still support the insurgency to offset the might of arch-rival India.

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