By Phil Stewart
ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT (Reuters) - The top U.S. military officer on Wednesday strongly rejected accusations from Pakistan that NATO deliberately killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last weekend.
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Reuters that he was trying to discuss the incident with Pakistan behind closed doors.
"Candidly we don't want to try to resolve this issue through the media. No offense," he said in an interview as he flew back to Washington after a trip to London.
"The one thing I will say publicly and categorically is that this was not a deliberate attack."
In comments widely published in Pakistani media on Wednesday, Pakistan's director general of military operations, Major General Ishfaq Nadeem, described the NATO cross-border attack as a deliberate, blatant act of aggression.
Nadeem said NATO forces were alerted they were attacking Pakistani posts but helicopters kept firing.
"It was impossible that they did not know these to be our posts," The News quoted Nadeem as saying at an editors' briefing held at army headquarters on Tuesday.
Dempsey declined to discuss details of the U.S. military's review into the incident, but questioned Nadeem's logic.
"What in the world would we gain by attacking a Pakistan border post?," Dempsey asked.
Nadeem said the NATO helicopters appeared near the post around 15 to 20 minutes past midnight, opened fire, then left about 45 minutes later. They reappeared at 0115 local time and attacked again for another hour.
Dempsey said the military was pouring over its own data from the incident.
"We're in the process of reviewing radio traffic, gun tapes, all of the things that an investigation has to consider before I can really make any statement about the duration," Dempsey said.
"But I can say, categorically, it was not a deliberate attack."
(Editing by Deborah Charles and Eric Beech)