Washington: US-Pakistani military-to-military relations 'are a mess' after a NATO strike last month killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, said a top US military official as a think-tank rated a conflict with Pakistan as a potential threat facing the US in 2012, but downgraded the potential for military escalation between Pakistan and India.

READ MORE: US-Pakistan conflict risk higher than India-Pakistan: Survey


The Pakistan-US ties became strained following the May 2 commando raid to kill Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. It worsened after the Nov 26 NATO airstrike on two Pakistan Army check posts left two dozen soldiers dead, sparking outrage in Pakistan.

'I can absolutely say that it wasn't something that we did intentionally,' the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey told the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank on Friday.

'Regrettably, the Pakistani military believes we did. We did not attack a Pakistan military border post intentionally. If you think we did, I'd have to ask you what in the world you'd think we would gain by doing that,' he was quoted as saying by the US defence department website.

Dempsey said he has spoken with Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. Other senior US officials have also spoken to their Pakistani counterparts, urging restraint and patience to let an inquiry board look into the incident and present its findings, he said.

The US has invited Pakistan to participate in reviewing the incident, but Pakistan has so far declined, Pentagon officials said.

Meanwhile, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland declined comment on Dempsey's 'a mess' remark saying 'I'm not going to comment on something I haven't seen'.

'But you know where we are with Pakistan, that this relationship is complicated, but it's also essential to both the United States and Pakistan. And we are working very hard to keep open channels and to get back to work together.'

Top US officials including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have 'obviously been in constant contact' with their counterparts in Pakistan and 'continuing our intensive engagement,' she said.

As the US frankly admitted that the ties were a mess, an influential think-tank rated a conflict with Pakistan as among the top potential threats facing the US in 2012, but downgraded the potential for military escalation between Pakistan and India.

A survey by the Washington based Council on Foreign Relations released on Friday elevated the risk of US conflict with Pakistan triggered by an attack or counter-terrorism operation amid high tensions in 2011.

But a severe India-Pakistan crisis that carries risk of military escalation, triggered by major terror attack was downgraded from the top to Tier Two contingencies affecting countries of strategic importance to the United States that do not involve a mutual defence treaty commitment.

The Council's Centre for Preventive Action anonymously surveyed US officials and experts to compile an annual list of the most plausible conflicts for the United States in the new year.

Besides a US conflict with Pakistan, the 2012 list elevated several contingencies to the top tier of risks: an intensified euro crisis, which could plunge the US back into recession; the threat of a cyber attack; and a Saudi instability, which would threaten global oil supplies.

Threats that remained at the top of the list from last year included a potential incident between the US and China involving US or allied forces, internal instability in Pakistan, intensified nuclear crises with Iran or North Korea, and a spillover of drug-related violence from Mexico.

'The United States has a dismal record of forecasting instability and conflicts. Presently there is no systematic US government process linking forecasting to contingency planning. This survey is intended to meet that need,' said CFR fellow for conflict prevention Micah Zenko, who conducted the survey.

(Agencies)