US troops in Afghanistan are massing close to the border with Pakistan, poised to launch bombing raids on suspected terrorist bases in the North Waziristan region, British and Pakistani newspapers reported on Wednesday.
Nine American soldiers were killed and 15 wounded on Sunday in an attack by militants on a US base in Kunar province, close to the Pakistani border.
The Times said that troops have been airlifted from the village of Lowara Mandi and that heavy artillery and armoured vehicles were also being moved into position for possible cross-border attacks on Pakistan.
The paper said that US Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during a visit to Islamabad at the weekend, had told Pakistan's top civil and military leadership that the US could take unilateral military action if Pakistan were unable to stop cross-border attacks in Afghanistan.
Mullen also said that some elements within Pakistani security agencies could be helping insurgents operate from their bases in the border region, the paper quoted well-placed sources as saying.
The Times quoted an influential Pakistani army official as saying there were strong indications the US was ready to launch bombing raids against suspected Al-Qaeda and Taliban camps inside Pakistan.
The Pakistani newspaper The News quoted official and tribal sources in the North Waziristan area as saying NATO troops had started arriving near the border areas on Monday night.
"Some of them had been brought in choppers and others by armoured personnel carriers. The troops had also shifted heavy arms and ammunition including tanks, heavy machine guns and artillery to the border," Haji Yaqub, a resident of the border town of Ghulam Khan, said.
The NATO troops have been deployed near the border towns of Ghulam Khan, Saidgai, Shawal and Mir Safar.
"They started setting up bunkers very close to the border while gunship helicopters are continuously hovering over the border," said a man named Roohullah, a resident of the border town of Saidgai.
He said that he had never before seen such a large deployment of foreign troops near the border.
"For us, it's unusual as they are on the zero point," Roohullah said, adding that the foreign troops had not crossed the border thus far.
The News quoted its sources as saying NATO troops had dug trenches at Mughalgai near Zhawar, the training camp of Afghan Mujahideen commander Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani, in Khost near Pakistan's Saidgai town.
Another bunker was established at Gurbaz near Tarkhobi area of Khost, close to Pakistan's Ghulam Khan town. Trenches were also dug close to Mir Safar and Shawal towns of NWA.
NATO forces had planned to set up four new military camps along the border in the Taliban-dominated provinces of Khost and Paktika in Afghanistan, The News quoted its sources as saying.
"They planned establishing four new military camps along the border and this latest deployment of the foreign troops was first step of the future planning," the sources added.
Meanwhile, Pakistani Taliban spokesman Maulvi Omar has said that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani's recent statements have provided the US-led NATO forces with an opportunity to deploy near the tribal areas.
"When a responsible person like the prime minister has himself said that foreign militants were hiding in Pakistani tribal areas and could cause another 9/11 like disaster, then who will stop American forces from invading the country?" Omar wondered.