WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush secretly approved orders in July that for the first time allow U.S. special forces to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without the approval of the Pakistani government, The New York Times reported on Thursday.
The new orders reflect concern about safe havens for Al Qaeda and the Taliban inside Pakistan, as well as an American view that Pakistan lacks the will and ability to combat militants, the paper said.
"The situation in the tribal areas is not tolerable," said a senior U.S. official who spoke to the Times on condition of anonymity. "We have to be more assertive. Orders have been issued."
The newspaper said the orders also illustrated lingering distrust of the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies and a belief some U.S. operations had been compromised once Pakistanis were advised of the details.
U.S. officials told the Times they would notify Pakistan when they conduct limited ground attacks like the Special Operations raid last week in a Pakistani village near the Afghanistan border, but they would not ask for its permission.
Pakistan army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani said on Wednesday Pakistan would not allow foreign troops to conduct operations on its soil.
"The sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country will be defended at all cost and no external force is allowed to conduct operations ... inside Pakistan," a military statement quoted Kayani as saying.
A senior U.S. official told the Times the Pakistani government had assented privately to the general concept of limited ground assaults by U.S. forces against significant militant targets, but that it did not approve each mission.
The top U.S. military officer told Congress on Wednesday the military was not winning the fight against the insurgency in Afghanistan and said it would revise its strategy to combat militant safe havens in Pakistan.
"I'm not convinced we are winning it in Afghanistan. I am convinced we can," Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a congressional committee nearly seven years after U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban.
Mullen said he was "looking at a new, more comprehensive strategy for the region" that would cover both sides of the border, including Pakistan's tribal areas.
Violence in Afghanistan has soared over the past two years as al Qaeda and Taliban fighters have regrouped in the remote region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The United States has stepped up attacks against militant targets inside Pakistan this year with a series of missile strikes from unmanned drones and a raid by helicopter-borne U.S. commandos in recent days. The attacks have been denounced by Pakistani leaders.