ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – American forces launched a raid inside Pakistan on Wednesday, a senior U.S. military official said, in the first known foreign ground assault in Pakistan against a suspected Taliban haven. The government condemned an incursion that it said killed at least 15 people.
The American official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of cross-border operations, told the Associated Press that the raid occurred on Pakistani soil about one mile from the Afghan border. The official didn’t provide any other details.
Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry launched a protest, saying U.S.-led troops flew in from Afghanistan for the attack on a village. An army spokesman warned that the apparent escalation from recent missile strikes on militant targets along the Afghan border would further anger Pakistanis and undercut cooperation in the war against terrorist groups.
The boldness of the thrust fed speculation about the intended target. But it was unclear whether any extremist leader was killed or captured in the operation, which occurred in one of the militant strongholds dotting a frontier region considered a likely hiding place for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida’s No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahri.
U.S. military and civilian officials declined to respond to Pakistan’s complaints. But one official, a South Asia expert who agreed to discuss the situation only if not quoted by name, suggested the target of any raid like that reported Wednesday would have to be extremely important to risk an almost assured “big backlash” from Pakistan.
“You have to consider that something like this will be a more-or-less once-off opportunity for which we will have to pay a price in terms of Pakistani cooperation,” the official said.
Suspected U.S. missile attacks killed at least two al-Qaida commanders this year in the same region, drawing protests from Pakistan’s government that its sovereignty was under attack. U.S. officials did not acknowledge any involvement in those attacks.
But American commanders have been complaining publicly that Pakistan puts too little pressure on militant groups that are blamed for mounting violence in Afghanistan, stirring speculation that U.S. forces might lash out across the frontier.
Circumstances surrounding Wednesday’s raid weren’t clear, but U.S. rules of engagement allow American troops to chase militants across the border into Pakistan’s lawless tribal region when they are attacked. They may only go about six miles on the ground, under normal circumstances. U.S. rules allow aircraft to go 10 miles into Pakistan airspace.