Bush Secret Order To Send Special Forces Into Pakistan

An observation post sits in the mountains over looking Speray on one side, and the Pakistan border on the other. (Photograph: John D McHugh)

Bush Secret Order To Send Special Forces Into Pakistan

Fear of escalating regional conflict

A secret order issued by George Bush giving US special forces carte
blanche to mount counter-terrorist operations inside Pakistani
territory raised fears last night that escalating conflict was
spreading from Afghanistan to Pakistan and could ignite a region-wide

The unprecedented executive order, signed by Bush in July
after an intense internal administration debate, comes amid western
concern that the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan and its
al-Qaida backers based in "safe havens" in western Pakistan's tribal
belt is being lost.

Following Bush's decision, US navy Seals
commandos, backed by attack helicopters, launched a ground raid into
Pakistan last week which the US claimed killed about two dozen
insurgents. Pakistani officials condemned the raid as illegal and said
most of the dead were civilians. US and Nato commanders are anxious to
halt infiltration across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border of insurgents
and weapons blamed for casualties among coalition troops. The killing
of a US soldier in eastern Afghanistan yesterday brought American
losses in 2008 to 112, the deadliest year since the 2001 intervention.
The move is regarded as unprecedented in terms of sending troops into a
friendly, allied country.

But another American objective is the
capture of Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader held responsible for
organising the 9/11 attacks. He and his second-in-command, Ayman
al-Zawahiri, are thought to be hiding in the tribal areas of north and
south Waziristan.

Bush's decision to extend the war into
Pakistan, and his apparent hope of British backing, formed the
background to a video conference call with Gordon Brown yesterday.
"What's happening on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan is
something where we need to develop a new strategy," Brown said before
talking to Bush.

Brown said he would discuss the border issue with Pakistan's new president, Asif Ali Zardari, who visits Britain next week.

unusual move in personally calling the prime minister for an Afghan
strategy discussion has led to speculation that the US president was
trying to line up British support for the new policy, including the
possible involvement of British special forces in future cross-border

Bush's executive order is certain to cause strains
with some Nato allies fearful that a spreading conflict could bring
down Pakistan's weak civilian government and spark a wider war. Last
night there were indications of open disagreement.

Appathurai, a Nato spokesman, said the alliance did not support
cross-border attacks or deeper incursions in to Pakistani territory.

Nato policy, that is our mandate, ends at the border. There are no
ground or air incursions by Nato forces into Pakistani territory," he

Nato has 53,000 troops in Afghanistan, some of which are
American. But the US maintains a separate combat force dedicated to
battling al-Qaida and counter-terrorism in general. Nato defence
ministers are due to discuss Afghanistan in London next week.

week's raid, and a subsequent attack on Monday by a Predator drone
firing Hellfire missiles, provoked protests across the board in
Pakistan, with only Zardari among leading politicians refusing to
publicly condemn it.

Pakistan's armed forces chief, General
Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, said the army would defend the country's
sovereignty "at all costs". He went on: "No external force is allowed
to conduct operations inside Pakistan."

He denied there was any
agreement or understanding to the contrary. His comments were widely
interpreted as a warning to Zardari not to submit to the American
importunity. But his tough words also raised the prospect of clashes
between US and Pakistani forces if American military incursions
continue or escalate.

Until now, Washington has regarded Pakistan
as a staunch ally in the "war on terror" that was launched in 2001. But
the alliance has been weakened by last month's forced resignation of

the army strongman, former general Pervez Musharraf, and his
replacement by Zardari, Benazir Bhutto's widower.

Polls suggest
most Pakistanis favour ending all counter-terrorism cooperation with
Washington, which is blamed for a rising civilian casualty toll in
Afghanistan and in the tribal areas.

Yousaf Raza Gilani,
Pakistan's prime minister, joined the chorus of condemnation yesterday.
He reportedly told state media Kayani's warning that unilateral US
actions were undermining the fight against Islamist extremism
represented the government's position.

Admiral Mike Mullen,
chairman of the joint chiefs, and Robert Gates, defence secretary, told
Congress this week that victory in Afghanistan was by no means certain
and the US needed to take the fight to the enemy inside Pakistan.

called for a "more comprehensive strategy" embracing both sides of the
border. "Until we work more closely with the Pakistani government to
eliminate the safe havens from which they operate, the enemy will only
keep coming," he said.

US and Pakistani forces have clashed by
accident in the past during operations to root out militants, although
sections of the Pakistani military and intelligence services are said
to harbour deep resentment about perceived American interference.

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