Pakistan-U.S. Relations on Rocky Terrain

His words were probably accurate for about five hours.

This afternoon President Bush's top military adviser, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, left Pakistan promising to "respect its territorial integrity." While his plane was still in the air, two missiles rained down on the tribal agency of South Waziristan, destroying a compound that housed at least one foreign militant.

A resident of the village where the missiles struck told ABC News at least six people had died in the attack.

"These guided missiles hit the house," he said. "It was the same American missile with the same sound that they have been using."

A Pentagon official denied that the U.S. military was behind today's incident.

But it follows a recent pattern of at least six attacks on Pakistani soil by American soldiers or drones in just the last two weeks, a major increase at a time when U.S. troops in Afghanistan are facing an increasingly strong and sophisticated insurgency that is partially based in Pakistan.

Those attacks included the first known ground assault by special forces soldiers on the Pakistani side of the border. The raid on the South Waziristan village of Angor Adda, which took place Sept. 3, enraged officials here and led them to warn publicly that any subsequent ground attack would be met with Pakistani firepower.

"The policy is very simple and clear," Pakistani military spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas told ABC News. "We deserve the right to retaliate to defend of our territory."

Politicians backed up the military's threat.

"Pakistan will take all measures necessary to jealously guard its sovereignty. Anything that needs to be done in Pakistan, on Pakistani territory, will be done by Pakistani forces. Let me assure you of that," the governor of the country's Northwest Frontier province, Owais Ahmed Ghani, told ABC News.

Mullen added his 16-hour visit to Pakistan while he was already on a trip through Europe and Asia, in part because he wanted to try to smooth things over with the Pakistani leadership in response to similar statements.

"There is a growing misunderstanding of each other's intentions and capabilities," Tariq Fatmi, Pakistan's former ambassador to the United States, told ABC News. "There's a need for both sides to step back from the kind of actions emanating from Washington and the statements emanating from Islamabad."

Mullen did not address the media during his visit but released a statement as he left, calling his discussions with the prime minister and Pakistani military chief of staff Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani"extremely frank, positive and constructive."

"Adm. Mullen appreciated the positive role that Pakistan is playing in the war on terror and pledged continued U.S. support to Pakistan," read the statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad.

"In this context, Adm. Mullen reiterated the U.S. commitment to respect Pakistan's sovereignty and to develop further U.S.-Pakistani cooperation and coordination on these critical issues that challenge the security and well-being of the people of both countries," the statement said.

Despite the rhetoric from Pakistan, few believe the Pakistani military would open fire on American forces. But two days ago residents of a village near the site of today's attack say Pakistani forces did fire on American troops and helicopters approaching Pakistan from the Afghanistan side of the border.

The United States often targets foreign fighters in this village and others surrounding it, though the tribesmen who live here are generally anti-Taliban. But the attack has made the United States less popular in the area, and to a certain extent, around the country. Today, residents told ABC News that the Ahmed Zai Wazir tribe created a lashkar, a kind of vigilante force, that promises to defend the border from American forces.

Military and political officials here fear that the hatred of the Taliban shared by many tribes could be directed toward the Americans, making the fight against militants more difficult.

As Habib Wazir, a resident of South Waziristan, told The Associated Press the day after the attack, "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."

The United States believes that the Pakistani military and government are either unable or unwilling to defeat the militancy along the Afghan-Pakistan border. A combination of Pakistani Taliban, Afghan Taliban, al Qaeda and groups run by militant leaders like the Haqqani family have made 2008 the deadliest year for U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan since the war there began.

Mullen, testifying before the House Armed Services committee last week, said that in Afghanistan, the "Taliban and al Qaeda fighters grow bolder and more sophisticated," in part because they could "better collaborate and communicate from safe havens in Pakistan."

They were able to "launch ever more sophisticated, even infantry-like, attacks against fixed coalition positions," he said.

But the United States needs Pakistan's help to fight in Afghanistan. More than 80 percent of the gear being used to wage war in Afghanistan travels through Pakistan by road. And military officials acknowledge that the United States cannot fight militants in the tribal areas itself.

The fear in Pakistan is that increased American aggressiveness will undermine new President Asif Ali Zardari and challenge Kiyani's ability to keep a sometimes skeptical officer corps from questioning whether the fight against the militants is in Pakistan's interest.

"If the Bush administration pursues its current policy, it's not only going to intensify anti-American sentiment in Pakistan, but it will also create a major daylight between the establishment here and the administration of Washington," says Fatmi, the former ambassador.