ISLAMABAD has warned the US their counter-terrorism alliance will be broken if Washington attempts to expand its ground war.
There are fears the war will move across the border from Afghanistan into Pakistani territory.
The warning came yesterday after the US military reportedly pressed for permission to open a second front against militants by using special forces in cross-border raids into Pakistan. One officer said: “We’ve never been as close as we are now to getting the go-ahead.”
US military officials told The New York Times that commanders had drawn up plans to attack Taliban and al-Qa’ida sanctuaries in Pakistan.
They had concluded that Islamabad had no intention of dislodging the militants, who are concentrated in the lawless tribal area of North Waziristan.
The officials said they were pushing for the White House to adopt the plan as a means of allowing a troop drawdown to begin as scheduled next year.
Abdul Basit, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman, reacted angrily to the suggestion that Islamabad would allow such incursions. “We have drawn a red line and any move to cross it will have a serious consequence,” he said.
Major-General Athar Abbas, Pakistan’s chief military spokesman, insisted: “There is a clear understanding that the Pakistani and US-led coalition forces will operate on the respective sides of the border.”
A senior Afghan official told The Times that the US cross-border plans were real, although he suggested that they were intended more to exert pressure on the Pakistanis than to prepare for an imminent incursion. “It is true but mainly symbolically and a mere warning,” the official said.
The New York Times report was denied yesterday by NATO’s deputy chief of communications in Afghanistan, US Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, who said there was “absolutely no truth” in it.
He added that NATO and US forces had developed a strong working relationship with the Pakistani military to address shared security issues.
“This co-ordination recognises the sovereignty of Afghanistan and Pakistan to pursue insurgents and terrorists operating in their respective border areas,” he said.
Signing off on special forces operations into Pakistan would effectively authorise the opening of a second front in the Afghan war, a high-risk strategy about which the White House remains highly sceptical.
Vice-President Joe Biden has previously advocated stepping up a campaign in Pakistan that could include special forces raids, but did so as an alternative to the current troop surge in Afghanistan rather than as an added extra. White House officials fear the political backlash from expanding the ground war into Pakistan would far outweigh any military or intelligence benefits. Pressure is mounting on the Obama administration over how to ensure the promised troop reduction can begin on schedule next northern summer, with increasing concerns being voiced about Pakistan’s failure to tackle the source of the conflict — the presence of Taliban sanctuaries on its soil.
In recently leaked diplomatic cables from the US embassy in Islamabad, the American ambassador predicted “no amount of money” could force Pakistan to withdraw support for the Afghan Taliban. Military officials, however, told the New York Times that several recent combat operations had been carried out by members of the CIA’s covert Afghan militia based in eastern Afghanistan.