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US scrutinizes Pakistan's backyard

US special forces killed up to four Al Qaeda militants near the Afghan-Pakistani border this week.

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The US-led military campaign in Afghanistan, launched nearly seven months ago, appears to be shifting southeast of the border into Pakistan. The country's loosely governed tribal territories have long been suspected of being havens for Al Qaeda and Taliban operatives.

In the past few days, US forces in pursuit of Al Qaeda and Taliban elements have been conducting joint operations inside Pakistan alongside Pakistani security forces, witnesses and Afghan military officials say. US special forces clashed on Monday and Tuesday with suspected Al Qaeda militants a mile from the border near the city of Khost, according to US military officials. Up to four Al Qaeda militants were killed, said US commander Maj. Gen. Franklin Hagenbeck, according to a wire report.

And on Friday night, a famous madrassah (religious seminary) in the northern Waziristan city of Miran Shah was raided by US and Pakistani troops, say local observers.

If the US is to meet its objectives in the war – "to kill or capture Al Qaeda and Taliban fugitives," in the words of one US military spokesman here – hideouts in Pakistan's tribal areas are a natural next target. But the new campaign to hunt down fugitives inside Pakistan and clog crossings on the treacherously porous 1,400-mile border that stretches between the two countries will need the cooperation of many.

In Afghanistan, new flare-ups among rival warlords are making it difficult to find allies. Over the weekend, feuding leaders clashed in the eastern city of Gardez. Up to 28 people were reported killed in fighting that included rocket attacks on the city.

And in Pakistan's tribal areas, predominantly Pashtun places where sympathy for Al Qaeda and the Taliban runs high, local residents see both US and Pakistani government troops as enemy intruders who have put Islam – not terrorism – under attack.

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