By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 12, 2008
New rules of engagement authorizing U.S. ground attacks inside Pakistan, signed by President Bush in July, were not agreed to by that country's civilian government or its military, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials.
Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, the Pakistani army's chief of staff, was informed last month by senior U.S. defense officials that if Pakistan failed to stem the flow of Taliban and other militant fighters into Afghanistan, the United States would adopt a new strategy, one allowing ground strikes on targeted insurgent encampments. A senior Pakistani official said that Kiyani believed the strategy was still under discussion and that Pakistan's counterinsurgency performance was improving.
News of Bush's order, following a strike last week by helicopter-borne U.S. commandos on a village about 20 miles inside Pakistan, brought denunciation yesterday from Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani, who echoed Kiyani's earlier charge that the attack had violated Pakistani sovereignty.
Meanwhile, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said at a news conference in Kabul that he approved of the new U.S. strategy, citing the need to "remove and destroy" insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan. But NATO said it had no intention of sending any of the 48,000 troops under its command in Afghanistan across the border. NATO's U.N. mandate does not include "ground or air incursions . . . into Pakistani territory," said spokesman James Appathurai.
Nearly 31,000 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan, divided between the NATO command and a separate force under the U.S. Central Command.
A senior European official said that the NATO allies shared U.S. concern over the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and were aware new U.S. rules were under consideration, but that they were unaware the rules had been approved. Bush's July order, first reported yesterday by the New York Times, was confirmed by several U.S. officials.
Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador to Washington, said U.S. officials assured him yesterday that "no such order had been given." The United States, he said, "respects Pakistan's sovereignty."
The senior European official called the implementation of the new strategy "peculiar," since its timing coincided with this week's inauguration of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.
"If you're going to invade another country . . . without their permission, after you've just spent eight years trying to get a democratic government in place, it strikes me as kind of confused politics," the official said.
Zardari plans to meet with Bush this month, either in Washington or in New York at the U.N. General Assembly, U.S. officials said.
Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday that he had called for an overhaul of U.S. strategy, including greater U.S. military involvement in Pakistan's tribal areas, but gave no indication that orders had already been given.
"I'm not convinced that we're winning it in Afghanistan," Mullen told the House Armed Services Committee. But, he added, "I'm convinced we can."
"That is why I intend to commission and have looked -- are looking -- I'm looking at a new, more comprehensive military strategy for the region that covers both sides of that border," Mullen said. "That is why I pressed hard on my counterparts in Pakistan to do more against extremists and to let us do more to help them."
Mullen and other senior U.S. military officials have met repeatedly with Kiyani to urge a more robust offensive to roust Taliban, al-Qaeda and other militant fighters from safe havens in the rugged Pakistani border region.
Gillani, who heads Pakistan's first democratic government since 1999, told Bush during a Washington visit in July that he needed more time to implement an economic development strategy to pacify the border region.
But with rising troop deaths in Afghanistan, U.S. patience has run thin. On Tuesday, Bush announced he would send an additional Army combat brigade to Afghanistan early next year.
Previous military rules of engagement, agreed to by Pakistan, allowed U.S. forces to travel up to six miles across the border if they were in "hot pursuit" of fighters chased from inside Afghanistan. The senior Pakistani official said that Kiyani was told last month that failure to increase the tempo of Pakistani military operations and provide better intelligence for American cross-border air attacks could result in new rules.
"There was a conditionality," the Pakistani official said. "If we take care of certain things on our side, then the rules don't change." Improvements were "already being put into place," he said, attributing several recent U.S. strikes with Predator unmanned aircraft to Pakistani intelligence, and citing an attack this week by Pakistani security forces in the tribal region of Bajaur that reportedly left 100 fighters dead.
But a U.S. official, one of several who discussed the sensitive situation on the condition of anonymity, said that as far as the United States was concerned, "most things have been settled in terms of how we're going to proceed."