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Pakistan, US clash over US ground assaults

Latest update : 2008-09-12

Tensions are high between Washington and Islamabad after US commandos unilaterally launched ground assaults on militant hideouts in Pakistan's tribal zones. Pakistan condemned the attacks, saying it will not tolerate foreign incursions.

Read our story on the shifting focus of the "war on terror": 'Pakistan's badlands: new ground zero for terror'


Watch our Top Story: "The war on al Qaeda, seven years on'



US ties with "war on terror" ally Pakistan are strained after US commandos unilaterally launched ground assaults on militants on Pakistani soil, drawing fire from the military chief in Islamabad.
"There is strain in the bilateral relationship but on the plus side, both sides are speaking honestly to each other about what it is we need," a US administration official told AFP Thursday.
The official virtually confirmed that US-led coalition ground troops in Afghanistan had been given the green light to undertake unilateral cross border operations against militants in Pakistan.
The first such foray on September 4 left two dozen suspected Al-Qaeda fighters dead, US reports said.
But Pakistan insists civilians were killed in the raid and Pakistan's army chief General Ashfaq Kayani described it as a reckless move which would "only help the militants and further fuel the militancy in the area."
The US official said Washington has been wanting to "sort of free the hands of the military commanders on the Afghan side," for months.
This was "to give them greater ability to seize the opportunities when they arise because frankly we have plenty of examples of opportunities we were unable to seize," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The New York Times newspaper reported Thursday that US President George W. Bush secretly approved orders in June allowing US forces to conduct ground operations in Pakistan without Islamabad's prior approval.
The White House refused to confirm the report.
A day earlier, Pakistan army chief General Ashfaq Kayani strongly criticized the maiden cross border raid last week, reportedly by two dozen US commandos supported by an AC-130 gunship.
"The sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country will be defended at all cost and no external force is allowed to conduct operations inside Pakistan," said the usually soft-spoken and low-profile Kayani.
But the US official said Washington was frustrated with "delays and sometimes non-answers" from Islamabad regarding "actionable intelligence" on militant movements in the tribal areas in Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan, where Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants were believed hiding.
In addition, there was lack of Pakistani action on a comprehensive counter insurgency strategy in the suspected terrorist hideouts, he said.
"We've been clear, we've been frank about the paramount importance of preventing the extremist elements from continuing to consolidate in the tribal areas," he said.
The US-Pakistan strains appeared just two weeks after Kayani met the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff Admiral Michael Mullen together with their top military officers in a US aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean to discuss counter terrorism strategies.
Mullen said Wednesday he had ordered the military to draw up a new strategy that encompasses insurgent safe havens in Pakistan.
"I think probably there was a decision made (by the United States) that 'enough is enough' and they needed to take these steps in order to try to take care of the problem on their own," said Lisa Curtis, a former senior advisor on South Asian issues in the State Department.
The move, she said, could be attributed to Pakistan's attempt to forge peace deals with militants in the tribal areas recently that followed heavy casualties suffered by US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan.
Information linking Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, known as the ISI, to a deadly blast at the Indian embassy in Afghanistan in July could be another factor that led to the new action, said Curtis, a South Asia expert at Washington-based Heritage Foundation.
Analysts at the CIA and other US spy and security agencies believe not only that the embassy bombing was aided by ISI operatives, but also that the highest levels of Pakistan's security apparatus -- including Kayani -- had knowledge of the plot, The New York Times reported Thursday.
"It's very difficult to imagine he was not aware," it quoted a senior American official as saying of Kayani.
The CIA has for years fired missiles at militants inside Pakistan from remotely piloted Predator aircraft but the new ground raids on the territory of a key ally without permission highlighted a more aggressive US stand.
"I think this is definitely an escalation from the US side, there is a big difference between predator, missile strikes and actually having boots on the ground without coordinating first with the Pakistani government," Curtis said.

Date created : 2008-09-12