NATO denies report of US push for expanded raids in Pakistan

A NATO spokesman denied reports of a US proposal to expand operations along the Afghan border, where the Pakistani government is already frustrated by drone attacks.

Mohammad Sajjad/AP
People look at a Afghanistan-bound NATO tanker set on fire by alleged militants on the outskirts of Peshawar, Pakistan, on Dec. 6.

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A spokesperson for the US-led coalition in Afghanistan today rebuffed a report that senior US military officials in Afghanistan are seeking to expand raids into Pakistan’s tribal areas.

"There is absolutely no truth to reporting in The New York Times that US forces are planning to conduct ground operations into Pakistan," Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, deputy chief of staff for communication for NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said in a statement from Kabul, according to Reuters.

The Los Angeles Times adds that Smith's "sharply worded statement underscored the extreme sensitivities surrounding the subject of militant sanctuaries in Pakistan."

The New York Times had reported yesterday that American military and political officials believe expanded raids could bring an intelligence windfall from militants that are captured in Pakistan and then taken into Afghanistan for interrogation. The proposed campaign expansion would likely further aggravate Washington’s tenuous relationship with Islamabad.

American officials have been increasingly open in recent days about their frustration with Islamabad’s inaction when it comes to routing militants. In a surprise visit to Kabul on Friday, US Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he made clear to Pakistani officials his strong desire to see more operations conducted in areas believed to be militant strongholds, such as North Waziristan, The New York Times reported.

"To make the kind of progress we need to make in Afghanistan, progress in Pakistan is critical," Mullen said.

In the few hours between the publication of the Times' report and the ISAF’s dismissal of the alleged plan, Pakistani officials voiced their outrage at the proposed campaign expansion.

"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,” Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, told Pakistani newspaper Dawn. “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.”

The Times report came just days after the CIA had to recall one of their agents in Pakistan due to threats related to a US drone attack. The identity of the CIA officer, who remains undercover in the US, was revealed in Pakistan when a lawyer for a Pakistani journalist named the officer in a police report. The lawyer's client claims the CIA officer should be held accountable for the deaths of his relatives in a US drone strike, the Los Angeles Times reported. The journalist, Karim Khan, filed a police complaint last week claiming that a CIA drone missile that hit their home in North Waziristan in December 2009 killed his brother and son.

While US actions in Pakistan thus far have been mostly carried out by drones, the proposal described by the Times would open the door for more ground and air operations to take place in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. This is likely to be met with fierce resistance from both Islamabad officials and the Pakistani public who opposes such operations.

In September, a helicopter attack that killed three Pakistani border guards led to Pakistan’s closing of a vital supply route used by NATO forces to deliver supplies into Afghanistan. Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani fervently opposed further US raids into Pakistani territory at the time, the Monitor reported.

"I want to assure the entire nation from this house that we will consider other options if there is interference in the sovereignty of our country," Mr. Gilani said in a speech before parliament.

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