WASHINGTON (AP) - American commanders in Afghanistan are pushing to expand special operations raids into tribal areas of Pakistan where Islamist militants are known to find refuge, according to a newspaper report.
Citing unnamed American officials in Washington, The New York Times reported on its website late Monday that U.S. military commanders believe special operations forces could capture militants for interrogation, bringing in an intelligence windfall.
American forces have made rare forays into Pakistan from Afghanistan, but the newspaper said the expanded raids now under consideration would be more routine.
The plan would likely have to be approved by President Barack Obama. It could well trigger a backlash in Pakistan, where the subject of American military incursions is politically volatile.
The U.S. has mainly relied on unmanned drones to pursue al-Qaida militants based in Pakistan. A decision to deploy special operations teams would signal frustration with Pakistan's efforts to root out militants using its territory as a base to support the Taliban and other extremists.
In response to the newspaper report, Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, said, "Pakistani forces are capable of handling the militant threat within our borders and no foreign forces are allowed or required to operate inside our sovereign territory. We work with our allies, especially the U.S., and appreciate their material support but we will not accept foreign troops on our soil - a position that is well known."
He noted that Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had visited Pakistan recently and had "acknowledged Pakistan's contribution. Nothing discussed during his trip indicates the likelihood of ill-advised escalation or unilateral action by NATO troops beyond their mandate in Afghanistan."
The nine-year-old war in Afghanistan has grown increasingly unpopular in public opinion polls as it drags on with no apparent exit strategy. Using special operations forces could increase pressure on the militants, or it could create new problems for Washington.
The newspaper said that Afghan militias backed by the CIA have in recent years carried out a number of secret missions into Pakistan. The operations had previously been described as limited to intelligence-gathering. But the report said that recent interviews had revealed that in at least one instance, the Afghans attacked and destroyed a militant weapons cache.
Officials who described the proposal for raids and the intelligence operations to the newspaper declined to be identified by name because they were discussing classified information, the report said.