Updated 9/18 8:10 PM EST
If last night’s attack in South Waziristan threw into doubt Admiral Michael Mullen’s earlier promise that the United States would respect Pakistan’s sovereignty over its tribal areas amid reports of further planned US escalation in the region, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates today removed any doubts about where America stands on the question.
In an interview with the BBC, Secretary Gates insisted that the United States has the right to launch attacks across the border into Pakistan, and take whatever other actions its deems necessary to “protect our troops”. He refused to answer a question as to whether Pakistan’s government had authorized the strikes, but said he would prefer Pakistan tackle the militants itself. Prime Minister Raza Gilani said his government has warned the US about the attacks, and insists there can be no compromise on Pakistan’s sovereignty.
Relations between the US and Pakistan have turned increasingly sour lately as the United States has launched an increasing number of attacks into Pakistan’s tribal areas, including one involving ground troops which killed a reported 20 civilians in South Waziristan.
Every major official in Pakistan’s government has called for the United States to halt its attacks at this point, and the military has received orders from General Kayani not to allow foreign troops to operate inside the country. This order was underscored by a reported incident Monday in which Pakistani troops opened fire on American forces attempting to launch another raid into South Waziristan.
CIA Director Michael Hayden said yesterday that the attacks into Pakistan are designed to “tickle” the militants and examine their responses, but the number of civilians killed in these strikes has alienated the US from what it has long considered among its most important partners in the region. In addition, a large tribe in South Waziristan announced that a jirga yesterday had decided they would take up arms against the Americans if the attacks continue, including attacking across the border into Afghanistan.