U.S. officials have pressed Pakistan to act against what they believe are groups of al Qaeda fighters concentrated in the Waziristan area of western Pakistan, near the Afghan border.
"We know where there is a large concentration of al Qaeda," Pentagon official told the Post last week, noting that there were several hundred in one border town, which he asked not be identified. But, he added, "Our guys haven't been getting the cooperation" requested from the Pakistani government.
The Pakistani government's reluctance to go after the pockets of terrorists on its territory is the first major difference to surface in the U.S.-Pakistani alliance against terrorism, which has been surprisingly strong since September.
If the intense U.S. pressure to mount an offensive along the Pakistani side of the border succeeds, it would mark a major widening of the eight-month-old U.S. counteroffensive against terrorism, in which overt combat has taken place only in Afghanistan. Pakistani officials also said it is possible the United States could decide to act unilaterally against the terrorist pockets.
Defense officials said the Pakistani military has been moving very slowly, despite U.S. offers to provide intelligence, helicopters, Special Operations troops or even conventional military units. For the last two weeks, one senior official said, "We've been after them [the Pakistanis] to attack, and we haven't made much progress."
A small number of U.S. Special Forces are already operating along the Pakistani side of the border, and covert U.S. patrols have crossed into Pakistan from Afghanistan, the Post reported. On Friday night, a rocket was fired at a building in North Waziristan in which U.S. personnel are believed to be staying. It was the second rocket attack this month against U.S. forces in the area. No casualties were reported in either assault.
In a related development, Pakistani police are taking action against Afghan refugees who fled to Pakistan. Police have arrested more than 400 Afghans in a major crackdown on illegal immigrants parallel to the sweep of Islamic militants that began after a suicide bus bombing killed 14 people in Karachi, officials said Sunday.
Police said the illegal-immigrant campaign in the area around the capital, Islamabad, is unconnected to the bombing Wednesday, but other officials note suspicions that the attack on a bus full of French naval engineers may have been carried out by radicals linked to the Taliban and al Qaeda network from Afghanistan.
Police said they were only rounding up Afghans without refugee status who lack valid documents and who had violated immigration laws or committed other crimes. By Sunday 416 Afghans had been arrested in Islamabad and nearby Rawalpindi in the sweep that began Friday, police said.