- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan | Pakistan’s prime minister on Thursday backed a harsh rebuke of the U.S. by the Muslim nation’s military chief, a sign of a strain in relations seven years after the Sept. 11 attacks forged the two countries’ anti-terror alliance.

Pakistan’s public show of anger with the U.S. comes amid revelations that President Bush secretly approved new U.S. military raids in that country.

A former intelligence official told the Associated Press that Mr. Bush signed the classified order over the summer. It gives new authority to U.S. special operations forces to target suspected terrorists in the dangerous area along the Afghanistan border.

U.S. counterterror operations along the border are highly unpopular in Pakistan, whose new leadership is trying hard to show independence from Washington. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the classified order.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he will press Pakistan to allow U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan to take a new approach to hunting Taliban and al Qaeda-linked militants who slip back and forth between the neighboring nations. But Mr. Brown offered no specifics on how the border could be better defended.

Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan’s powerful but media-shy army chief, said nearly a week after a deadly American-led ground assault in Pakistani territory that Pakistan would defend its sovereignty and that there was no deal to allow foreign forces to operate inside its borders.

He said unilateral actions risked undermining joint efforts to battle Islamic extremism and warned that “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country will be defended at all cost.”

“No external force is allowed to conduct operations inside Pakistan,” he said in the Wednesday statement.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, in comments reported Thursday by state media and confirmed by his office, said Gen. Kayani’s words reflected government opinion and policy.

U.S. officials say clearing militants from such pockets in Pakistan’s semiautonomous tribal regions is critical to reducing attacks on NATO and American forces in Afghanistan.

Operations from bases in Pakistan have helped make 2008 the deadliest year for U.S. forces, with attacks in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday’s 9/11 anniversary killing two Americans.

Thursday’s deaths brings to 113 the number of troops who have died in Afghanistan, surpassing last year’s record toll of 111, according to an AP tally.

“Until we work more closely with the Pakistani government to eliminate the safe havens from which they operate, the enemy will only keep coming,” Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.

However, NATO insisted it won’t launch cross-border raids into Pakistan.

“It is not NATO that will be sending its forces across the border,” said alliance spokesman James Appathurai at a news conference. He stressed that the mandate of the 47,000 strong NATO force in Afghanistan stops at the border.

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