Pakistan, US in dispute over al-Qaeda military tactics

ISLAMABAD - Pakistan and the US were drawn into a dispute yesterday over the right strategy to hunt down al-Qaeda, seven years after the September 11 attacks stunned the world.

ISLAMABAD - Pakistan and the US were drawn into a dispute yesterday over the right strategy to hunt down al-Qaeda, seven years after the September 11 attacks stunned the world.

With thousands of US and other international troops locked in Afghanistan, US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Michael Mullen said he had ordered a new strategy covering both sides of its border with Pakistan.

US and Afghan officials say those tribal areas have become a safe haven for Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants, who sneaked into the region after the fall of the hardline Islamic regime in Kabul in late 2001.

"I'm not convinced we're winning it in Afghanistan. I am convinced we can," Mullen told a congressional committee.

The New York Times reported that US President George Bush in July secretly approved orders enabling US Special Operations forces to conduct ground operations in Pakistan without Islamabad's prior approval.

The report, citing senior US officials, follows a wave of missile strikes targeting militants in Pakistan that have been attributed to US-led coalition forces or CIA drones based in Afghanistan.

But they have killed civilians as well as militants, stirring local anger and embarrassing the Pakistani government - a key US ally that has lost 1200 of its own people in bombings and suicide attacks in the past year alone.

Last week, Pakistan for the first time accused Afghanistan-based troops of carrying out a direct attack on its territory - a raid in the South Waziristan tribal zone that left 15 people dead.

In a statement early yesterday, Pakistan's army chief General Ashfaq Kayani strongly criticised the raids and insisted there was no deal allowing foreign troops to conduct operations there.

"The sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country will be defended at all cost. There is no agreement with the coalition forces whereby they are allowed to conduct operations on our side of the border," Kayani added.

He slammed the killing of civilians in South Waziristan, pointing out that such "reckless actions only help the militants and further fuel the militancy in the area".

In a brutal reminder of the violence, at least 20 worshippers were killed and 30 wounded when militants hurled grenades and fired into a mosque in a northwest border district late on Wednesday. - Sapa-AFP

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