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U.S. trains sights on Taliban, Al Qaeda stronghold

It plans to send more troops to Afghanistan and ramp up attacks in Pakistan.

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In congressional testimony Wednesday, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen said Pakistan and Afghanistan are "inextricably linked in a common insurgency." For several months he has warned that any terrorist attack carried out on American soil would likely originate from this border region.

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US officials believe Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are in the area. The leader of the group that carried out the attacks on the Serena Hotel and President Karzai, Jalaluddin Haqqani, is also thought to be in Pakistan. Monday's airstrike reportedly killed a wife and a daughter of his.

The Pakistani Army's efforts to neutralize such terrorists have been stuttering at best, characterized by paroxysms of brief fighting followed by toothless cease-fires that allow militants to regroup.

The increased frequency of American strikes suggests that the US believes it must ramp up operations on both sides of the border as a stopgap. The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the number of missile attacks in Pakistan has jumped from three in 2007 to 11 so far this year.

A recent report in a leading Pakistani daily, Dawn, claims that US forces are replicating in Pakistan a narrow strategy pioneered in Iraq: Picking off insurgent leaders one by one. The classic, broader counterinsurgency operations used in Iraq – clearing an area of terrorists, holding it with a large military presence, then building infrastructure – is not possible in Pakistan, which refuses to let US forces fight on its soil.

This is a political necessity. Pakistanis overwhelmingly resent what they see as historic US interference in their country. If Pakistan's fledgling civilian government is perceived as being subservient to the US – a reputation already dogging newly inaugurated President Asif Ali Zardari – it will incur the anger of its people. "It definitely will create difficulties for the new government," says Rashid Ahmad Khan, an analyst at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute.

Already, news of the ground attack in South Waziristan, one of Pakistan's northwestern tribal areas, last week – in which 20 civilians were allegedly killed – has been met with outrage across the country.

"It's not justifiable by any means. It is an attack on our sovereignty. We're a nuclear power but are helpless before the US," says Sardar Muhammad, sitting in a bazaar in the frontier city of Peshawar.

Pakistan's response was to close the Afghan coalition's major overland supply route into Afghanistan, Pakistan's Torkham Pass, to NATO traffic for a day.

"This will tell how serious we are," Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar told Dawn Television.

Ghulam Dastageer contributed from Peshawar, Pakistan.