(Reuters) – Senior U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan are seeking to expand Special Operations ground raids into Pakistan, The New York Times reported on Monday.
The proposal would escalate military activities inside Pakistan and reflects growing frustration with Islamabad’s efforts to root out militants in Pakistani tribal areas, the newspaper said, citing U.S. officials in Washington and Afghanistan.
Military commanders said using Special Operations troops could bring an intelligence windfall, if militants were captured and interrogated, it said.
A Pentagon spokesman had no comment on the report.
Such a proposal, if confirmed, could reflect the Obama Administration’s eagerness to demonstrate progress in Afghanistan as it plans to start withdrawing a U.S. force of around 100,000 in the middle of 2011.
NATO allies too are beginning to signal an end to their combat roles in the unpopular nine-year-old war.
The White House said in a review of Afghanistan strategy unveiled last week that while a surge in U.S. troop levels has helped push Taliban fighters out of parts of south Afghanistan, tentative progress cannot be sustained unless Pakistan acts decisively against militants sheltering within its borders.
The United States faults Pakistan for lacking the will to take action against the militants in North Waziristan, a major sanctuary for al Qaeda and Taliban militants in Pakistan.
While the White House said Pakistan had taken encouraging steps in cracking down on militants, stationing 140,000 troops on its western border, many senior officials appear increasingly exasperated and President Barack Obama said “progress has not come fast enough” for his liking.
Kamran Bokhari, Middle East and South Asia director for intelligence firm STRATFOR, said the United States was believed to have been conducting select cross-border military operations within Pakistan since the Afghanistan war began.
With this new report, he said, Washington could be “telegraphing to Pakistanis there is this option to do things unilaterally but saying, ‘We would prefer you cooperate.'”
Yet even the suggestion of such an expansion could exacerbate the strained U.S.-Pakistani relationship. “This is a red line for Pakistanis. This is going to create a lot of problems,” Bokhari said.