U.S. OK'd Troop Terror Hunts in Pakistan
Thursday, August 23, 2007; 8:41 PM
-- Newly uncovered "rules of engagement" show the U.S. military gave elite units broad authority more than three years ago to pursue suspected terrorists into Pakistan, with no mention of telling the Pakistanis in advance.
The documents obtained by The Associated Press offer a detailed glimpse at what Army Rangers and other terrorist-hunting units were authorized to do earlier in the war on terror. And interviews with military officials suggest some of those same guidelines have remained in place, such as the right to "hot pursuit" across the border.
Pakistan, a key U.S. partner in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, has long viewed such incursions as a threat to its sovereignty. Islamabad protested loudly this month when Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama pledged to grant U.S. forces the authority to unilaterally penetrate Pakistan in the hunt for terrorist leaders.
Washington repeated assurances it would consult before any such incursions.
But summaries of the rules of engagement on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in April 2004 say chasing al-Qaida leaders across the frontier was fair game.
One summary states that "Entry into PAK authorized for" the following reasons:
_"Hot pursuit" of al-Qaida, Taliban and terrorist command-and-control targets "from AFG into Pakistan (must be continuous and uninterrupted)."
_If the head of U.S. Central Command, which oversees American forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, approved direct action "against The Big 3," listed as Osama bin Laden; his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri; and Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar. The three are still believed to be hiding in the border region.
_If the Defense secretary approved such an incursion.
Other grounds for incursions into Pakistan, according to this summary, were "personnel recovery," including rescuing troops after the downing of aircraft; and troops "in contact with" the enemy, meaning under fire.
As for "geographic limits," the memo states: "General rule: penetrate no deeper than 10 km," or 6.2 miles.
Told of the guidelines, Pakistani military spokesman Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad said, "This is all nonsense. Pakistan never allowed the coalition forces to enter into our territory while chasing militants. There was no such agreement, there was no such understanding."