Pakistan's troubled battle against a militancy that has never been stronger was on full display today when the prime minister survived a crude assassination attempt and Western soldiers launched an unprecedented cross-border operation in Pakistan's tribal areas that killed at least 19 people.
"Multiple snipers" shot at the motorcade of Prime Minister Yusuf Gilani in the early afternoon as it traveled between the capital, Islamabad, and neighboring Rawalpindi, according to a statement released by his office.
Two bullets struck the bulletproof driver's side window and at least one other struck the front of the car. Gilani was not in the motorcade at the time, causing one government spokesman to call the attack a "warning message."
About 12 hours before, Western troops poured out of at least two helicopters in South Waziristan, where al Qaeda has a close connection with the Pakistan Taliban, and raided three homes in the early morning, according to residents of the town of Angoor Adda. Those killed during the raid included women and children, and Pakistan's foreign office formally complained to the United States, calling the operation "a gross violation of Pakistan's territory."
A State Department spokesman had no comment on the raid and would not confirm reports that U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson was summoned to Pakistan's foreign ministry for a "strong diplomatic protest."
Unmanned U.S. aircraft often patrol the skies over the tribal areas and launch almost weekly missile strikes against what the United States says are militant hideouts. And U.S. soldiers have entered into Pakistan from Afghanistan while in hot pursuit of militants fleeing across the border. But the Pakistani military said today that Western forces had never landed helicopters and conducted an operation inside Pakistan.
The U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, was called in for a "strong diplomatic protest" to the attacks, according to a spokesman for the Pakistani Embassy in Washington.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack would not confirm Patterson had been called in and declined to comment to ABC News on the raid, but a senior U.S. military official confirmed to the Associated Press that American forces launched the raid
Pakistan is convinced the raid was conducted by American-led forces originating in Afghanistan. Pakistan's military "strongly condemned this completely unprovoked act of killing and regretted the loss of precious lives," a spokesman said in a statement. "Such acts of aggression do not serve the common cause of fighting terrorism and militancy in the area."
The United States and Afghanistan have been urging Pakistan to do more to confront the militants in the tribal areas, where al Qaeda, the Afghan and the Pakistan Taliban and affiliated groups have launched unprecedented attacks on Western bases and soldiers in Afghanistan. It is also where the Taliban have launched suicide attacks across Pakistan, helping destabilize this nuclear-armed country as it copes with one of the worst economies in its history and a volatile political situation.
"The Pakistani Taliban have the capacity to launch bomb attacks, suicide attacks in all the major cities, and against all targets -- the army, the police, business, schools, etc.," says Ahmed Rashid, author of "Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia."
"It's showing the government to be helpless, it's showing up the government's lack of policy, lack of strategy, and it's showing up the army, also."
There is fear in Pakistan that the United States will become more aggressive in the tribal areas, launching its own major operations where it believes Pakistan's frontier corps is not battling hard enough to defeat the militants along the border.
Pakistan's foreign ministry today said that any U.S.-led attacks in Pakistan "undermine the very basis of cooperation and may fuel the fire of hatred and violence that we are trying to extinguish."
Habib Khan Wazir, who lives near Angoor Adda, told the Associated Press he heard helicopters, followed by an exchange of fire.
"Later, I saw 15 bodies inside and outside two homes. They had been shot in the head," he said. "There was darkness at the time when the Americans came and killed our innocent people. ... We would have not allowed them to go back alive if they had come to our village in daylight."
Meanwhile, the attack on the prime minister's motorcade was the first assassination attempt on Gilani since he was elected by the parliament in February, and the first major attempt to kill a national politician since Benazir Bhutto was killed in December.
But it was the second assassination attempt by bullet in two weeks. Last week, two gunmen fired a barrage of bullets at the car of Lynne Tracy, the top U.S. diplomat based in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier province. She escaped the shooting and nobody was hurt.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for today's attack, telling Reuters that Gilani was responsible for some of the largest offensives in the past year against militants along the border. "We will continue such attacks on government officials and installations," said Muslim Khan, the Pakistan Taliban's spokesman in Swat, where the military said today that troops killed 30 militants.
The Taliban has promised to continue attacks on the country's military, police and politicians until the military stops its campaigns in Swat and Bajour, another border agency where the Taliban has strong links to al Qaeda.
But the government has pledged not to negotiate with the Taliban until they lay down their arms.
"Either we hand over Pakistan to these Talibans, or we fight back," said Rehman Malik, the head of the Interior ministry. "And our policy is to fight back."