By KIMBERLY DOZIER, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. military and intelligence officials are so frustrated with Pakistan's failure to stop local militant groups from attacking Americans in neighboring Afghanistan that they have considered launching secret joint U.S.-Afghan commando raids into Pakistan to hunt them down, officials told The Associated Press.
But the idea, which U.S. officials say comes up every couple of months, has been consistently rejected because the White House believes the chance of successfully rooting out the deadly Haqqani network would not be worth the intense diplomatic blowback from Pakistan that inevitably would ensue.
Members of the Haqqani tribe have been targeted by pilotless U.S. drone aircraft, but sending American and Afghan troops into Pakistan would be a serious escalation of the hunt for terrorists and could potentially be the final straw for Pakistan, which already is angered over what it sees as U.S. violations of its sovereignty.
The al-Qaida-allied Haqqani tribe runs a mafia-like smuggling operation and occasionally turns to terrorism with the aim of controlling its territory in eastern Afghanistan. The Haqqanis use Pakistani towns to plan, train and arm themselves with guns and explosives, cross into Afghanistan to attack NATO and Afghan forces, then retreat back across the border to safety.
The latest round of debate over whether to launch clandestine special operations raids into Pakistan against the Haqqanis came after the June 1 car bombing of Forward Operating Base Salerno in eastern Afghanistan that injured up to 100 U.S. and Afghan soldiers, according to three current and two former U.S. officials who were briefed on the discussions. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the still-evolving debates.
The officials told the AP that recent discussions of clandestine ground attacks have included Gen. John Allen, the senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan, as well as top CIA and special operations officials.
Allen's spokesman, Navy Cmdr. Brook DeWalt, said Allen "has not and does not intend to push for a cross-border operation."
The White House and the CIA declined to comment for this story.
Pentagon spokesman George Little said the U.S. was still focused on U.S.-Pakistan cooperation.
"The key is to work together with Pakistan to find ways of fighting terrorists who threaten both the United States and Pakistan, including along the Afghan-Pakistan border, where extremists continue to plot attacks against coalition forces and innocent civilians," he said.
The U.S. relationship with Pakistan is arguably at its lowest point over the continuation of drone strikes to hit terror targets in Pakistan, the successful Navy SEAL raid in Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden that was carried out without a heads-up to the country's leaders and the U.S. refusal to apologize for a border skirmish in which the U.S. mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani troops. On Thursday, the State Department's inspector general accused the Pakistani government of harassing U.S. Embassy personnel.
Pakistan has done little in response to repeated U.S. requests for a crackdown on the Haqqanis, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta surprisingly voiced that frustration in a visit to Kabul this month.
He said the U.S. was "reaching the limits" of its patience with Pakistan's failure to tackle the tribe's safe havens. He added that the U.S. was "extraordinarily dissatisfied with the effect that Pakistan has had on the Haqqanis." He also made fun of Pakistan's ignorance over the bin Laden raid at a speech in India, Pakistan's archrival.
Pakistan's army has attacked militant strongholds across the tribal areas, except for North Waziristan, where the Haqqanis hold sway and shelter both al-Qaida and Taliban militants. Pakistani officials say that they intend to hit North Waziristan but that their army is too overstretched to move as fast as the U.S. demands.
Pakistani officials have conceded privately, however, that they have been reluctant to take on the powerful tribe for fear of retaliatory strikes.