US military chiefs 'are pushing for Special Operations raids on Pakistan

Senior US military commanders in Afghanistan are pushing for an expanded campaign of Special Operations ground raids across the border into Pakistan's tribal areas, a risky strategy reflecting the growing frustration with Pakistan's efforts to root out militants there.

The proposal, outlined by American officials in Washington and Afghanistan, would escalate military activities inside Pakistan, where the movement of American forces has been largely prohibited because of fears of provoking a backlash.

The plan has not yet been approved, but military and political leaders say a renewed sense of urgency has taken hold, as the deadline approaches for the Obama administration to begin withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan.

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Even with the risks, military commanders say using US Special Operations troops could bring an intelligence windfall if militants were captured, brought back across the border and into Afghanistan and interrogated.

The Americans are known to have made no more than a handful of forays across the border into Pakistan, in operations that have infuriated Pakistani officials.

Now, US military officers appear confident that a shift in policy could allow for more routine incursions.

America's clandestine war in Pakistan has for the most part been carried out by armed drones operated by the CIA.

In recent years, Afghan militias backed by the CIA have also carried out a number of secret missions into Pakistan's tribal areas.

The decision to expand US military activity in Pakistan - which would almost certainly have to be approved by President Barack Obama himself, - would amount to opening a new front in the nine-year-old war.

One senior US officer said: "We've never been as close as we are now to getting the go-ahead to go across."

Ground operations in Pakistan remain controversial in Washington, and there may be a debate over the proposal.

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However, one senior administration official said he was not in favour of cross-border operations - which he said have been generally "counterproductive" - unless they were directed against the top leaders of al-Qaeda.

Still, as evidence mounts that Pakistani troops are unlikely to stage a major offensive into the militant stronghold of North Waziristan, where al-Qaeda's top leaders are thought to be taking shelter, US commanders have renewed their push for approval to send American commando teams into Pakistan.

In announcing the results of a review of the strategy in Afghanistan, Obama administration officials said they were considering expanded American operations to deal with threats inside Pakistan. They offered no specifics.In interviews in Washington and Kabul, American officials said that officers were drawing up plans to begin ground operations to capture or kill leaders from the Taleban and the associated Haqqani network.

US officers say they are particularly eager to capture, as opposed to kill, militant leaders, who they say can offer intelligence to aid future operations.

Even before finalising any plans to increase raids across the border, the Obama administration has already stepped up its air assaults in the tribal areas with an unprecedented number of CIA drone strikes this year.

Since September, the spy agency has carried out more than 50 drone attacks in North Waziristan and elsewhere — compared with 60 strikes in the preceding eight months.