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US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan extend war into Pakistan

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With three cross border attacks into Pakistani territory the US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan have apparently extended Afghan-war into Pakistan.

According to Nato, a remote Afghan military outpost in the eastern province of Khost, close to Pakistan border, came under fire on Saturday. "Two helicopters were engaged and acted in self-defense. They crossed very briefly into Pakistani territory and neutralized the threat," said Captain Ryan Donald, a spokesman for Nato. "Later in the day, two helicopters received small-arms fire and, in self-defense, returned fire. In doing so, they entered Pakistan very briefly." Donald said 49 militants had been killed in the first incursion and four to six were killed in the second attack, according to a review of the video surveillance tapes from the helicopters. He said Nato was investigating reports of a third incursion, which took place Sunday.

There was uproar in Pakistan's National Assembly. Opposition leader, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, said that this violation of Pakistani borders is against our sovereignty and the government should take appropriate measures to stop such incidents in future. He said the United States is only friend of its own cause and it was time to ask Washington whether it was Pakistan's friend or foe. "The United States never gave a space to Pakistan being its ally in war against terror," he said. Chaudhry Nisar also recalled the humiliating manner in which Pakistani military officials were offloaded at a US airport a few weeks ago.

At the same time, Pakistan Muslim League-N legislator, Khurram Dastgir, quoting from Bob Woodward's new book, Obama's Wars, told the parliamentarians that more than 3,000 CIA agents were deployed in the fight against terror. According to the excerpts published by Washington Post and New York Times, Woods says that the US Central Intelligence Agency is running and paying for a secret 3,000-strong army of Afghan paramilitaries whose main aim is assassinating Taliban and al-Qa'ida operatives not just in Afghanistan but across the border in neighboring Pakistan's tribal areas. He describes these forces as elite, well-trained units that conduct highly sensitive covert operations into Pakistan as part of a stepped-up campaign against al-Qa'ida and Afghan Taliban havens there.

Meanwhile, the assembly of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where these attacks are being launched, on Tuesday termed the drone attacks and ground offensive by the US-led Nato forces on Pakistani soil as attack on the country's sovereignty. The assembly unanimously adopted a resolution jointly moved by all the parliamentary parties. The resolution said the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly condemned the frequent drone attacks in the tribal areas of Pakistan and airspace violations by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) helicopters. The resolution termed it a direct blow to the integrity and sovereignty of the country and asked the federal government to take concrete steps in this regard.

In a strongly worded editorial, the Nation, a leading newspaper of Pakistan said now the US has begun the next phase of its agenda targeting Pakistan and that is the aerial gunship attacks from across the Afghan border into Pakistan. "As so many had been predicting, if the Pakistani state did not de-link itself from the misguided US "war on terror', the US would eventually shift the centre of gravity of the war from Afghanistan to Pakistan and move militarily into Pakistani territory. This is exactly what is now happening. Already the US has been carrying out drone attacks against Pakistanis, killing thousands of innocent citizens in their wake and perhaps in the process a few militants also. US covert operatives and Special Forces have spread themselves all over Pakistan and these revelations and warnings in the Pakistani media have been there for some time."

Another leading Pakistanis newspaper, The News, wrote: "We have sent a demarche of protest to NATO headquarters in Brussels, saying that we may be 'constrained' to consider response options if our sovereignty is further violated. But what does it mean? Are our forces going to be ordered to shoot down American helicopters? Engage American troops on Pakistan soil? America, it seems, is going to fight its war wherever it wants -- and damn the consequences."

Amid uproar in Pakistan's parliament and media against the three attacks, US military chief Admiral Mike Mullen called the Pakistani military leadership on Tuesday and assured them that Washington respected Pakistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity. The daily Dawn of Pakistan reported that the calls were made after Pakistan lodged strong protests against a series of attacks by the US-led International Security Assistance Force during the last three days, and conveyed to the United States that if forces in Afghanistan continued to violate its territorial integrity it would be forced to consider appropriate response. Diplomatic sources in Washington told Dawn that Pakistan had informed the Americans that while Islamabad was America's partner in the war against terror, "they are very sensitive to their sovereignty and territorial integrity". The Pakistanis insisted that the UN and Nato mandate for operating inside Afghanistan ended on the Afghan border and "it does not cover an inch of Pakistani territory".

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Tellingly, Admiral Musllen's assurance about respecting Pakistan's sovereignty belies a report by the New York Times that General David H Petraeus, the Commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, has warned the Pakistan army that America could launch ground operations in the tribal areas, if Islamabad refused to dismantle the militant network in North Waziristan. The New York Times reported on Monday:

As evidence of the growing frustration of American officials, Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Afghanistan, has recently issued veiled warnings to top Pakistani commanders that the United States could launch unilateral ground operations in the tribal areas should Pakistan refuse to dismantle the militant networks in North Waziristan, according to American officials. "Petraeus wants to turn up the heat on the safe havens," said one senior administration official, explaining the sharp increase in drone strikes. "He has pointed out to the Pakistanis that they could do more."

Special Operations commanders have also been updating plans for cross-border raids, which would require approval from President Obama. For now, officials said, it remains unlikely that the United States would make good on such threats to send American troops over the border, given the potential blowback inside Pakistan, an ally. But that could change, they said, if Pakistan-based militants were successful in carrying out a terrorist attack on American soil. American and European intelligence officials in recent days have spoken publicly about growing evidence that militants may be planning a large-scale attack in Europe, and have bolstered security at a number of European airports and railway stations.

The paper also said that as part of its covert war in the region, the C.I.A. has launched 20 attacks with armed drone aircraft thus far in September, the most ever during a single month, and more than twice the number in a typical month. "This expanded air campaign comes as top officials are racing to stem the rise of American casualties before the Obama administration's comprehensive review of its Afghanistan strategy set for December. American and European officials are also evaluating reports of possible terrorist plots in the West from militants based in Pakistan."

A US official on Wednesday was quoted by AFP as confirming reports of an al Qaeda plot to attack targets in Western Europe and the United States, but said it was not clear where and when the threat was meant to be launched. "The threat is, at this point, credible but not specific," said the official, who asked to remain unnamed. "It's unclear, for instance, precisely where something might occur. For that reason, people shouldn't limit their thinking to the United Kingdom, France, or Germany," the official told AFP. "And while no one should dismiss the prospect of a Mumbai-style operation, it's entirely conceivable that other modes of attack are in play."

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Interestingly, Pakistan's army on Wednesday dismissed as "very speculative" media reports that this month's upsurge in US drone strikes on militants in the country's northwest sought to disrupt attacks on European cities. Pakistani military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told Reuters: "We don't have any information or intelligence that militants had gathered there (in North Waziristan) and were plotting attacks. There is absolutely no intelligence on that." "Basically it's very speculative," he said of the western media report. "It's a very speculative story. It does not quote any credible source."

What these claims, counter claims, assurance by Admiral Mulles and veiled threat by General David H Petraeus indicate? Perhaps the three incursions into volatile Pakistani territory is a dry run for an all out military operation by the US-led Nato forces inside Pakistan as General Petreaus has threatened.


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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)

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