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Pakistan army chief warns U.S. to keep troops out

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani said on Wednesday Pakistan would not allow foreign troops to conduct operations on its soil, after a cross-border incursion by U.S. commandos.

Kayani’s strongly-worded statement coincided with comments by the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, that a “more comprehensive strategy” was being formed to combat the threat from the Taliban and al Qaeda in the region.

Kayani, who met Mullen and other U.S. commanders on an aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean on August 28, delivered a clear message foreign forces would not be tolerated on Pakistani territory, without directly referring to Mullen’s comments.

“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.

Helicopter-borne U.S. commandos carried out a ground assault in Pakistan’s South Waziristan, a sanctuary for al Qaeda operatives, last week, the first known incursion into Pakistan by U.S. troops since the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, killing 20 people, including women and children.

The U.S. action complicated the situation for Pakistan’s new civilian president, Asif Ali Zardari, who was sworn in on Tuesday, having forced former army chief Pervez Musharraf to stand down last month after nearly nine years in power.

Zardari, like Musharraf, has vowed to defeat the Taliban and support the West’s mission in Afghanistan, but the civilian government has to pay more heed to public opinion than Musharraf had done in a country rife with anti-American sentiment.

“There is no question of any agreement or understanding with the coalition forces whereby they are allowed to conduct operations on our side of the border,” the statement said.

Kayani said he apprised U.S. military officials of the “complexity of the issue that requires understanding in depth and more patience for evolving a comprehensive solution” when he met them on the USS Abraham Lincoln last month.

He warned “reckless” actions like the one last week could further fuel militancy in the region.

“Trust-deficit and misunderstandings can lead to more complications and increase the difficulties for all,” he said.

“Falling for short term gains while ignoring our long term interest is not the right way forward,” he said, adding coalition forces should show strategic patience and help Pakistan instead of adopting “a unilateral approach which may be counter productive”.

REVISE STRATEGY

Pakistan, a staunch ally in the U.S.-led war against terrorism, condemned the U.S. raid and summoned the U.S. ambassador in Islamabad to lodge a protest.

The United States and Afghanistan say al Qaeda and Taliban militants operate from sanctuaries in northwest Pakistani border areas, using the semi-autonomous tribal lands to orchestrate their insurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan and to plot attacks in the West.

U.S. President George W. Bush on Tuesday said militants were stepping up attacks into Afghanistan from safe havens in northwest Pakistan.

The U.S. military said on Wednesday it would revise its strategy for the region to include militant safe havens in neighboring Pakistan.

“I’m not convinced we are winning it in Afghanistan. I am convinced we can,” Mullen said in testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee nearly seven years after U.S.-led forces toppled Afghanistan’s former Taliban rulers following the September 11 attacks.

Mullen said he was “looking at a new, more comprehensive strategy for the region” that would cover both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Pilotless U.S. drones have carried out at least three missile assaults in Pakistani tribal regions since Friday.

The latest on Monday targeted a house and religious school or madrasa founded by a Jalaluddin Haqqani, a veteran Taliban commander and an old friend of al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

Twenty three people were killed in the attack, most of them family members of Haqqani and around 10 militants, including five low-ranking al Qaeda operatives.

Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Janet Lawrence

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