ISLAMABAD, Pakistan Pakistan's prime minister on Thursday backed a harsh rebuke of the U.S. by the Muslim nation's military chief, a sign of a strain in relations seven years after the Sept. 11 attacks forged the two countries' anti-terror alliance.
Pakistan's public show of anger with the U.S. comes amid revelations that President Bush secretly approved new U.S. military raids in that country.
A former intelligence official told The Associated Press that Bush signed the classified order over the summer. It gives new authority to U.S. special operations forces to target suspected terrorists in the dangerous area along the Afghanistan border.
U.S. counterterror operations along the border are highly unpopular in Pakistan, whose new leadership is trying hard to show independence from Washington. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the classified order.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he will press Pakistan to allow U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan to take a new approach to hunting Taliban and al-Qaida-linked militants who slip back and forth between the neighboring nations. But Brown offered no specifics on how the border could be better defended.
Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the powerful but media-shy army leader, said a week after a deadly American-led ground assault in Pakistani territory that Pakistan would defend its sovereignty and that there was no deal to allow foreign forces to operate inside its borders.
He said unilateral actions risked undermining joint efforts to battle Islamic extremism and warned that "the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country will be defended at all cost."
"No external force is allowed to conduct operations inside Pakistan," he said Wednesday.
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, in comments reported Thursday by state media and confirmed by his office, said Kayani's words reflected government opinion and policy.
U.S. officials say clearing militants from such pockets in Pakistan's semiautonomous tribal regions is critical to reducing attacks on NATO and American forces in Afghanistan.
"Until we work more closely with the Pakistani government to eliminate the safe havens from which they operate, the enemy will only keep coming," Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.
However, NATO insisted it won't launch cross-border raids into Pakistan.
"It is not NATO that will be sending its forces across the border," said alliance spokesman James Appathurai at a news conference. He stressed that the mandate of the 47,000 strong NATO force in Afghanistan stops at the border.
"There are no ground or air incursions by NATO forces into Pakistani territory," Appathurai insisted. "The solution to the tension across the border, or on these cross-border issues is first and foremost a solution to the growing extremism."
An informal meeting of NATO defense ministers in London next Thursday and Friday will also discuss operations in Afghanistan.
The former U.S. intelligence official said the Pakistani government is not told about the targets of U.S. attacks in advance because of concerns that the Pakistani intelligence service and military are infiltrated by al-Qaida and Taliban supporters.
Also, the "rules of engagement" have been loosened, allowing troops to conduct border attacks without being fired on first if they witness attacks coming from the region, the official said.
Many Pakistanis blame their nation's alliance with the U.S. for fueling violence in their country, while U.S. officials worry that Pakistan's government is secretly aiding militant networks keeping them as a wedge against longtime rival India.
Kayani's statement was significant because he so rarely speaks publicly and because he heads Pakistan's most powerful institution. His remarks indicated he was sensitive to anger among Pakistanis, and possibly even within the military, over the assault and suspected missile strikes, analysts said Thursday.
"It expresses a deep concern in Pakistan and was quite timely because of the feeling in Pakistan as if the army and the government of Pakistan has surrendered to whatever Americans want to do in the tribal regions," political analyst Rasul Bakhsh Rais said.
U.S. officials have acknowledged that American troops carried out the operation in South Waziristan but have not given details. The mission's goal and results remain unclear. Local residents said at least 15 people died.
Some analysts have speculated the Bush administration is turning to missiles and ground assaults in Pakistan to try to score last-minute victories ahead of the U.S. presidential elections and in the face of a growing Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.
Bush and Brown discussed strategy on Afghanistan in a video conference call Thursday, the British leader's office said.
"What's happening on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan is something where we need to develop a new strategy," Brown told a London news conference earlier in the day. "We are trying to prevent people from moving back and forward," he said, referring to those behind attacks on NATO and U.S. forces.
Brown said he will talk with Pakistan's new president, Asif Ali Zardari, within days to draw up a revised strategy on halting the flow of fighters across the border.
Zardari, the widower of slain ex-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, is generally considered pro-American and has said terrorism is Pakistan's chief challenge. In recent days, he has faced some criticism for not being more outspoken in condemning U.S. strikes in Pakistan.
In violence Thursday, clashes between security forces and militants in the restive Bajur tribal region killed 12 insurgents, a major and a soldier, said Maj. Murad Khan, an army spokesman. Separate clashes in the Swat Valley left eight militants dead, Khan said.
Also in Bajur, the bullet-riddled bodies of three men active in anti-Taliban activities were found, witnesses and officials said. Government official Jawed Khan said the bodies were found with a letter saying, "This is the result of working against the Taliban and cooperating with the army instead of joining jihad."
Tribal leaders in the Salarzai area of Bajur have denounced the Taliban. Recently, armed tribal members torched and destroyed several suspected militant houses and hide-outs.