US apologizes for helicopter strike near Afghan border that killed 2 Pakistani soldiers

The U.S. apologized Wednesday for a recent helicopter attack that killed two Pakistani soldiers at an outpost near the Afghan border, saying American pilots mistook the soldiers for insurgents they were pursuing.

The apology, which came after the conclusion of a joint investigation, could pave the way for Pakistan to reopen a key border crossing that NATO uses to ship goods into landlocked Afghanistan. Pakistan closed the crossing in apparent reaction to the Sept. 30 incident.

"We extend our deepest apology to Pakistan and the families of the Frontier Scouts who were killed and injured," said the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson.

Pakistan initially reported that three soldiers were killed and three injured in the attack, but one of the soldiers who was critically injured and initially reported dead ended up surviving, said Maj. Fazlur Rehman, the spokesman for the Frontier Corps.

Pakistani soldiers fired at the two U.S. helicopters prior to the attack, a move the investigation team said was likely meant to notify the aircraft of their presence after they passed into Pakistani airspace several times.

"We believe the Pakistani border guard was simply firing warning shots after hearing the nearby engagement and hearing the helicopters flying nearby," said U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Tim Zadalis, who led the investigation. "This tragic event could have been avoided with better coalition force coordination with the Pakistan military."

The head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, also expressed his condolences "to the families of those killed and wounded, to the Pakistan military, and the people of Pakistan."

"We deeply regret this tragic loss of life and will continue to work with the Pakistan military and government to ensure this doesn't happen again," he said.