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Bush orders military strikes inside Pakistan: Report

September 11, 2008 12:57 IST

United States President George W Bush [Images] has secretly given the go ahead to American special forces to carry out ground attacks inside Pakistan without the prior approval of the country's government.

The classified orders signal a watershed for the Bush administration, after nearly seven years of trying to work with Pakistan to combat the Taliban [Images] and al Qaeda elements, the New York Times reported on Thursday, quoting senior American officials.

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"The situation in the tribal areas is not tolerable," a senior official told the paper. "We have to be more assertive. Orders have been issued."

The new orders, the paper said, reflect concern about safe havens for al Qaeda and the Taliban inside Pakistan, as well as an American view that Pakistan lacks the will and ability to combat militants.

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They also illustrate lingering distrust of the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies and a belief that some American operations had been compromised once Pakistanis were advised of the details, the official said.

American officials were quoted as saying that they will notify Pakistan when they conduct limited ground attacks like the Special Operations raid last Wednesday in a Pakistani village near the Afghanistan border, but that they will not ask for its permission.            

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Last week's raid also presents a major test for Pakistan's new president, Asif Ali Zardari, who supports more aggressive action by his army against the militants but cannot risk being viewed as an American lap dog, as was his predecessor, Pervez Musharraf [Images], the paper said.

The new orders, the Times added, were issued after months of debate inside the Bush administration about whether to authorise a ground campaign inside Pakistan.

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The paper said that details about last week's commando operation have emerged that indicate the mission was more intrusive than had previously been known.

It quoted two American officials as saying it involved more than two dozen members of the Navy Seals who spent several hours on the ground and killed about two dozen suspected Qaeda fighters, in what now appeared to have been a planned attack against militants, who had been conducting attacks against an American forward operating base across the border in Afghanistan.

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Supported by an AC-130 gunship, the Special Operations forces were whisked away by helicopters after completing the mission. Pakistan's government has asserted that last week's raid achieved little except killing civilians and stoking anti-Americanism in the tribal areas.

"Unilateral action by the American forces does not help the war against terror because it only enrages public opinion," said Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador to Washington, during a speech on Friday. "In this particular incident, nothing was gained by the action of the troops."

The stepped-up campaign inside Pakistan, the Times says, comes at a time when American-Pakistani relations have been fraying. There is resentment within American intelligence agencies about ties between the Inter Services Intelligence and militants in the tribal areas.

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