The discovery of three American soldiers among the dead in a suicide bombing at the opening of a girls’ school in the northwestern Pakistan town of Dir last week reignited the fears of many Pakistanis that Washington was set on invading their country.
Barack Obama has banned the Bush-era term “war on terror” and dithered about sending extra troops to Afghanistan, but across the border in Pakistan, the US president has dramatically stepped up the covert war
against Islamic extremists.
US airstrikes in Pakistan, launched from unmanned drones, are now averaging three a week, triple the number last year. “We're quietly seeing a geographical shift,” an intelligence officer said.
For the past month drones have pounded the tribal region of North Waziristan in apparent retaliation for the murder of seven CIA officers in Afghanistan
by a Jordanian suicide bomber working with the Pakistani Taliban.
The discovery of the dead US soldiers revealed that America’s shadowy war in Pakistan not only involves drones but also small cadres of special operations soldiers
One official suggested the "trainers” may be used to pick up intelligence on drone targets, particularly because the CIA did not trust its counterparts from the ISI
, the Pakistani intelligence service that has close links to the Taliban.
To the irritation of Washington, Islamabad has kept up a pretence that drone attacks are carried out without its approval, even though the aircraft are based in Pakistan.
Among the Pakistani public, there has been outcry at the attacks. Surveys constantly show that Pakistanis consider the US a greater threat than the Taliban, despite 3,021 Pakistani deaths in terrorist attacks last year.
If the drones are controversial, the presence of US soldiers on Pakistani soil is far more so
. Despite a $1.5 billion (£959m) aid programme, Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, had to fly into Pakistan two weeks ago to reassure its military leadership
. “Let me say definitively the US does not covet a single inch of Pakistani soil,” he told Pakistan’s National Defence University.