WASHINGTON – 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.
Pakistani army chief of staff Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani 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 that included ground strikes on targeted insurgent encampments. A senior Pakistani official said 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 Thursday from Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani, who echoed Kiyani’s earlier charge that the attack 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.
There are currently nearly 31,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, divided between the NATO command and a separate force under the U.S. Central Command.
A senior European official said 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 Thursday by the New York Times, was confirmed by several U.S. officials.
Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, said that U.S. officials assured him Thursday 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” because its timing coincided with this week’s inauguration of new 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.
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 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-Qaida and other militant fighters from safe havens in the rugged Pakistani 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.