An early morning attack on a South Waziristan village by US helicopters and ground forces on September 3rd may have been unprecedented, but according to a report by National Public Radio, this was no isolated incident but rather “phase one” of a three stage plan to escalate attacks in Pakistani tribal regions aimed at targeting al-Qaeda safe havens. NPR quotes one source as saying “the gloves have come off”.
Though neither the Pentagon nor the Bush Administration would discuss the report, it is in keeping with other reports received in the past few days regarding a secret directive by the Bush Administration which came to light last week. The directive came entirely without approval from Pakistan‘s recently elected civilian government or its military, according to officials.
The South Waziristan attack which killed 20 civilians, though the only one involving ground troops so far, is not the only US strike on Pakistani territory in recent days. Two airstrikes near the North Waziristan town of Miramshah last week by US Predator Drones, one on Monday and one on Friday, killed 23 and 14 people, respectively. Both strikes targeted militants, but women and children were also reported among those killed. No prominent al-Qaeda or Taliban figures were killed in either of the attacks.
Pakistan’s populace and government have both reacted quite negatively to the attacks. Both houses of Pakistan’s parliament passed resolutions condemning the South Waziristan attack, and the opposition has called for the government to withdraw from the war on terror if the US strikes don’t cease.
This has put newly elected President Asif Ali Zardari in a tough position. On the one hand, he has pledged his commitment to “stand with the United States” in its war, but he must attempt to balance that with his increasing dependence on tribal area MPs to maintain his coalition’s dwindling majority. Beyond that, with much of Pakistan’s military committed to fighting large scale offensives in Swat Valley, Wazir tribesmen have threatened to withdraw from a long-standing peace deal with the government if they are unable to halt the American attacks.
Pakistan’s military has also spoken out strongly against the US strikes, with Chief of Army Staff General Parvez Kayani warning that foreign forces would no longer be allowed to conduct missions on Pakistani soil. Another high ranking military official later confirmed that the army has been ordered to retaliate against any foreign troops inside the country. Major General Jeffrey Schloesser warned Pakistan recently that if it does not step up its fight against the militants “a new kind of war could well begin”.
NATO seems to appreciate the palpable danger in attacking targets inside Pakistan over the objections of its government, and has announced that it will not participate in any US strikes. The Bush Administration appears not to feel the same way, the agreed to rules of engagement with Pakistan notwithstanding. But with sentiment towards to US government already suffering severe harm from “phase one,” can the alliance possibly survive the next two phases, whatever they may be?
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