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Search for Osama: U.S. General's comments are "irresponsible"

By Declan Walsh

Tensions over search for Osama come into open

PESHAWAR: Cross-border tensions in the hunt for Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda militants have erupted into the open as Pakistan's frontline commander issued a stinging rebuke to the top U.S. general in Afghanistan.

Lieutenant-General Safdar Hussain, who leads 70,000 troops in the lawless tribal belt, described as ``highly irresponsible'' comments by

Lieutenant-General David Barno that Pakistan was about to launch a fresh anti-terrorist operation.

``He should not have made that statement. It was a figment of his imagination. There is no bloody operation going on until we have the right intelligence,'' he told the Guardian at his headquarters in the north-western city of Peshawar.

The rift underscored Pakistani sensitivities about its military cooperation with the U.S., which is unpopular across the country and particularly among the conservative northern Pashtun tribes.

``I don't want to give the nation the impression that Barno can come down here and dictate the operation,'' he said.

In response, Lieutenant Cindy Moore, a coalition spokeswoman in Kabul, said: ``Coalition and Pakistani forces share a common enemy in the global war on terrorism.''

Pakistan cooperates in operations to corner Al-Qaeda fugitives hiding along the 2,250 km border but vehemently rejects suggestions that American troops should be allowed to cross into its territory.

Joint patrol

Pakistani troops opened fire on a joint U.S.-Afghan patrol that strayed across the border on January 30, killing one Afghan soldier, Gen. Hussain said. ``We warned them `you are in Pakistan, please go back' through a loudhailer, and fired warning shots in the air. They kept going. Thereafter we opened up on them,'' he said.

He confirmed that the CIA was operating remote surveillance posts near the border but said its agents were not allowed to roam the tribal areas ``for their own safety and security.''

Last December, Pakistani Ministers denied the existence of the U.S. spy stations, following a New York Times report that CIA officials were frustrated by the restrictions on their movements.

``I cannot have them going out to the locals to look for human intelligence,'' he said. ``I won't be responsible for somebody bumping off foreigners in my area.''

The tensions may stem from a combination of U.S. impatience to accelerate the hunt for Al-Qaeda militants, and Pakistani reticence to further anger the tribesmen sheltering them.

- Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005

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