ISLAMABAD/KABUL: A senior official for the Nato-led forces in Afghanistan on Tuesday strongly denied a report in The New York Times that the United States was considering expanding special forces raids into Pakistan. Relations between the United States and Pakistan are already strained despite months of strategic dialogue aimed at upgrading the partnership and billions of dollars in aid for development and relief from devastating floods.
Analysts said Washington might be using the suggestion to coax Pakistan into tougher action against Taliban militants in areas bordering Afghanistan. But any serious move to expand ground raids would boost tension, perhaps intolerably, and could be considered a “red line” for Pakistani authorities.
“There is absolutely no truth to reporting in The New York Times that US forces are planning to conduct ground operations into Pakistan,” Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, Deputy Chief of Staff for Communication for the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), said in a statement from Kabul.
He said US troops and their Nato-led allies, along with Afghan forces, had “developed a strong working relationship with the Pakistan military to address shared security issues. “This coordination recognises the sovereignty of Afghanistan and Pakistan to pursue insurgents and terrorists operating in their respective border areas.”
Late on Monday, the New York Times reported that senior US military commanders in Afghanistan were seeking to expand Special Operations ground raids into Pakistan. The proposal, as reported, would escalate military activities inside Pakistan and reflects growing frustration with Islamabad’s efforts to root out militants in Pakistani tribal areas, the newspaper said, citing US officials in Washington and Afghanistan.
Pakistani authorities made clear the issue was hypersensitive in what is already a shaky alliance in the US-led war on militancy.”Pakistani forces are capable of handling the militant threat within our borders and no foreign forces are allowed or required to operate inside our sovereign territory,” Islamabad’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani said, according to the Associated Press of Pakistan.
“We work with our allies, especially the US, and appreciate their material support but we will not accept foreign troops on our soil -- a position that is well known.”
“This is a deliberate leak,” Ahmed Rashid, a journalist and expert on the Afghan Taliban, told Reuters. “The Americans have been talking about this for the last six months.” Pakistanis, he said, could only react with rage to the possibility of drone strikes on major cities, like Quetta. But, he added, the United States is more serious this time because if after winter the Taliban can maintain the intensity of their attacks, this could jeopardise the success of President Barack Obama’s plan to begin a phased withdrawal in mid-2011.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 22nd, 2010.
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