WASHINGTON – With angry protests spreading in Pakistan, Pentagon officials said Thursday that the number of cross-border commando missions might grow in coming months to counter increasing violence in Afghanistan.
The developments threatened to aggravate U.S.-Pakistani tensions just before Saturday’s presidential election, in which attitudes toward the U.S. might be a key issue. The raid and its aftermath also fanned a long-standing debate within the Bush administration over how to deal with militants in Pakistan.
Pakistani officials said U.S. troops were ferried into South Waziristan by helicopter in the Wednesday raid and that as many as 20 people were killed, many thought to be civilians. The White House, State Department and Pentagon all moved to clamp down on administration discussion of the assault, but government officials confirmed the broad details disclosed by the Pakistani government.
U.S. military officials insisted that there was no new policy in place authorizing an increase of raids into Pakistan. But pressure has been building within the military for more aggressive use of existing practices as U.S. casualties have increased along with the number of attacks carried out in Afghanistan by militants who are based in Pakistan.
“You can’t allow a haven,” said a military officer, who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity when discussing the raid.
In Pakistan, parliament passed a resolution condemning the raid Thursday, a day after the government lodged a diplomatic protest with the U.S. ambassador.
The frequency of U.S. raids might depend on the Pakistanis’ reactions. U.S. officials are monitoring the public response and the private reaction from leaders of the fledgling Pakistani government. Some military officials considered the initial Pakistani response relatively restrained, although protests built into the day.
Military officials said that the U.S. used existing authority negotiated with former President Pervez Musharraf to launch the raid.
The U.S. has long reserved the right to cross the border in “hot pursuit” of militants. Although details are murky, Wednesday’s raid does not appear to be a case of hot pursuit.