Pakistani raid on al-Qaida based on U.S. military information
Associated Press WriterWASHINGTON (AP) -- Pakistan's deadly raid on a suspected al-Qaida hide-out Wednesday was in a region that the U.S. military says has given sanctuary to as many as 1,000 of the terrorists who fled from Afghanistan.
The United States put U.S. forces in neighboring Afghanistan on alert to help in the firefight in case Pakistan requested it, but it did not, said Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"We're in this fight together," he told a Pentagon press conference. "We're partners in this together."
U.S. special forces for at least two months also have been helping local forces hunt enemy Taliban and al-Qaida on the Pakistan side of the border, in a lawless northern area controlled by tribes rather than the national government. It was unclear to what extent those forces might have been involved
Speaking with Myers, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld declined to comment on reports that special forces were nearby but stayed out of the fight.
But it was U.S. intelligence that led Pakistani soldiers to a suspected al-Qaida hiding place near the town of Wana in the North West Frontier Province, a government official told The Associated Press in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. He did not say whether he meant U.S. military, FBI or CIA, all of which have been hunting enemy figures in Pakistan.
Ten Pakistani soldiers and two enemy fighters were reported killed in a four-hour firefight that started Tuesday and end Wednesday. More Pakistani soldiers were sent in to look for those responsible, and tribal leaders said they would cooperate, an army officer said.
Meanwhile, on the Afghan side of the border, American forces searched for important enemy figures beyond the part of the country that has been the main focus of air and ground searches, officials said.
"People of interest" may be in the Konar province northeast of Jalalabad, near the border with Pakistan, Myers said Tuesday.
"More things are pointing in that direction," Myers said, refusing to elaborate.
Much of the focus of the American-led search for remnant al-Qaida and Taliban militia fighters has been to the south of Jalalabad, near the eastern cities of Gardez and Khost. The last major ground offensive against their forces was fought in March in the Gardez area.
On Monday, U.S. special operations troops searching in Konar province came under rocket or mortar fire, Air Force Brig. Gen. John Rosa Jr. told a Pentagon news conference Tuesday. The Americans returned mortar fire, and two U.S. F/A-18 fighters dropped two bombs. No Americans were hurt, Rosa said.
"We're patrolling all over the country, not just in the area of eastern Afghanistan where we focused over the last month," Rosa said. In noting the rocket attack Monday in Konar province, Rosa said, "We haven't talked much about being up in that area."
Pressed for details, Rosa said, "It's not a special operation. It's not anything but intelligence gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance that we're doing over most parts of that country."
U.S. and British troops have been scouring border areas in southeastern Afghanistan -- including Paktika province -- for weeks for al-Qaida and Taliban holdouts. They have found several weapons caches, but few fighters.
Pakistan deployed thousands of soldiers to the areas bordering Afghanistan starting last year to block al-Qaida fighters from fleeing U.S.-led operations against them.
Hundreds have been arrested at the border and in other raids. But U.S. commanders have been saying for months that many more have moved freely across the Afghan-Pakistani border and taken sanctuary in Pakistan.
The Defense Department says Americans are providing only communications and intelligence assistance in the tribal area. But tribesmen say they have seen American soldiers with Pakistani troops on raids of religious schools in the area.
Pakistan is a chief supporter of the U.S.-led coalition in war against terrorism, providing intelligence and allowing the use of local air bases.