CBSN

U.S. Hits Pakistan Again, Tension Mounts

Pakistani protesters burn a U.S. flag and an effigy of President Bush to condemn alleged strikes in Pakistani tribal areas along Afghanistan border, Sept 10, 2008 in Multan, Pakistan.
AP Photo/Khalid Tanveer
The main opposition party called Friday for parliament to meet in joint session to devise strategy on how to deal with cross-border attacks after the latest suspected U.S. missile strike killed 12 people in northwestern Pakistan.

American forces in Afghanistan are stepping up their efforts to hit Taliban and al Qaeda militants in what they call safe havens in Pakistan's wild border regions, despite stiff protests from Islamabad.

With the insurgency in Afghanistan intensifying, U.S. President George W. Bush secretly approved more aggressive cross-border operations in July, current and former American officials have told the AP.

Chaudhry Nisar Ali, a senior leader of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's opposition party, demanded the government convene a joint session of parliament to discuss and devise a strategy on what he called an increasing and alarming number of the U.S. strikes inside Pakistan.

"This is very serious and very concerning to us," he said.

The latest apparent missile strike was by a U.S. pilotless drone inside Pakistan's lawless northwest border region, according to a senior Pakistani intelligence official.

Two intelligence officials told The Associated Press that missiles struck a home near Miran Shah, a town in North Waziristan which is the capital of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, before dawn Friday.

Friday morning's attack appeared to target a former government school building which is believed to be used by militants, the intelligence official told CBS News' Farhan Bokhari.

A local official in the Miran Shah area, which is about 11 miles east of the border with Afghanistan, told CBS News' Sami Yousafzai the attack killed 12 people, most of them militants.

The strike came as senior European and Arab diplomats warned that the widening rift between Pakistan's leadership and Washington over the sharp increase in American military activity on Pakistani soil could undermine counter-terrorism efforts.

A local official in the Miran Shah area, which is about 11 miles east of the border with Afghanistan, told CBS News' Sami Yousafzai the attack killed 12 people, most of them militants.

Senior U.S. military leaders said earlier this week that America would need to revise its strategy in combating militants on the Pakistani side of the border, following an increase in military casualties in Afghanistan.

CBS News national security correspondent David Marin confirmed Thursday that President Bush had secretly approved U.S. military raids inside Pakistan to go after alleged terrorist targets - the first time his administration was known to have green-lighted ground operations without the consent of Pakistan's leadership.

The new presidential order also gave U.S. troops permission for the first time to fire across the border from Afghanistan into Pakistan even if they are not being fired upon themselves, reported CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan.

A local militant in the Miran Shah area told Yousafzai by telephone Friday that Taliban fighters were taking more precautions in light of the ramped-up U.S. military activity. He said leaders were being moved more often and with more security, and there was a growing expectation that encounters with American ground forces inside Pakistan could be imminent.

Pakistan's new civilian leadership and its military commanders have reacted with growing anger to what they call a violation of their country's sovereignty.

The most recent, known cross-border raid by U.S. ground forces took place earlier this month when a team of Navy SEALS laid siege to several buildings in a Pakistani village for at least a couple hours. At least 15 people were killed, including one militant subcommander, but many of them were civilians.

Voicing the southeast Asian country's frustration, General Ashfaq Kayani, the overall military chief, said in a strongly worded statement released Wednesday that Pakistan would not allow foreign troops to operate on its soil.

A senior European ambassador based in Islamabad told CBS News Friday that European NATO members had begun quietly urging both the U.S. and Pakistan to end their squabbling over who should and should not be operating in the border region.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the ambassador told Bokhari, "it is becoming increasingly clear to us that the public disagreements between the U.S. and Pakistan will ultimately just benefit the militants… We are urging restraint on both sides."

An Arab diplomat based in Islamabad echoed those concerns: "This alliance is going to be in trouble unless the U.S. and Pakistan return to some sanity in their respective positions," he told Bokhari.

Pakistan's tribal belt, at the centre of the growing debate between Washington and Islamabad, is widely believed to be used as a safe haven for leaders of the Taliban and al Qaeda, who use the rugged terrain to regroup and plan cross-border attacks on U.S., coalition and Afghan troops across the border.

The growing tension comes just days after Asif Ali Zardari, widower of slain prime minister Benazir Bhutti took the oath as Pakistan's new president. Zardari has vowed to step up the hunt for militants, but Pakistani officials say his position will be weakened if the current row with Washington is not resolved.

On Friday, army spokesman Maj. Murad Khan said 32 militants and two Pakistani soldiers had died in the previous 24 hours in the Bajur region.

Iqbal Khattak, a local government official, put the total for the 24-hour period higher, saying about 60 militants have died.

Officials say hundreds of militants have died in a weeks-long Pakistani offensive into Bajur. An estimated 500,000 people have fled their homes. Officials acknowledge that civilians have been killed and villages badly damaged in the fighting.

The fight for American soldiers and their military partners is no less perilous inside Afghanistan, where U.S.-led coalition troops killed more than 10 militants and detained two others during two separate raids, the coalition said Friday.

The militants were killed in Tagab district of northern Kapisa province during a Thursday raid on an insurgent commander involved in roadside bomb attacks, the coalition said in a statement.

"Coalition forces were engaged with small-arms fire from multiple groups of armed militants as they entered a compound. The force returned fire, killing the militants," the statement said.