- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 21, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan | The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan on Tuesday denied reports that U.S. forces are pushing to expand special operations raids into tribal areas of neighboring Pakistan where Islamist militants are known to find refuge.

NATO’s deputy chief of communications, Navy Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, said there was no truth to a report published in the New York Times.

Citing unnamed U.S. officials in Washington, the Times reported on its website late Monday that U.S. military commanders believe special operations forces could capture militants for interrogation, bringing in an intelligence windfall.

“There is absolutely no truth to reporting in the New York Times that U.S. forces are planning to conduct ground operations into Pakistan,” Adm. Smith said.

He added that NATO and U.S. forces, along with “their Afghan partners, have developed a strong working relationship with the Pakistan military to address shared security issues. This coordination recognizes the sovereignty of Afghanistan and Pakistan to pursue insurgents and terrorists operating in their respective border areas.”

In Washington, a senior defense official also said the story was “not true.” Two other Pentagon officials said it’s no surprise that there would be commanders on the ground who think having the U.S. go after insurgents itself would be useful, but that the idea has not risen through the chain of command to a point where it is a formal proposal and being given serious consideration.

All three officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue for Washington-Islamabad relations.

Pakistan has firmly rejected any suggestion of U.S. assistance and has in the past sternly protested when the U.S.-led alliance had crossed the border into Pakistani tribal areas.

On Sept. 30, Pakistan closed a key border crossing for 10 days, stranding NATO resupply trucks in an apparent protest over a NATO helicopter incursion that killed two Pakistani soldiers on the border. During the closure, almost 150 stranded trucks were destroyed by attackers.

The U.S. has mainly relied on unmanned drones to pursue al Qaeda militants based in Pakistan. A decision to deploy special operations teams would signal frustration with Pakistan’s efforts to root out militants who use its territory as a base to support the Taliban and other extremists.

In response to the newspaper report, Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, said: “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. We work with our allies, especially the U.S., and appreciate their material support but we will not accept foreign troops on our soil - a position that is well known.”