"Every military operation has to go through a cost benefit analysis. Now when the cost becomes prohibitive, when it comes to death, destruction, damage, and displacement, then you have to revisit the strategy," he said. "And if there are other options available, one must try other options."
In Bajaur, the head of the Frontier Corps, the paramilitary force leading the fight in the tribal areas, tried to paint a picture of an aggressive, take-no-prisoners force. He said he had just rejected a peace deal offered by the Bajaur Taliban.
"What I see is a militant who is thrashed, beaten and now does not know how to save his face and comes onto the radio and makes an announcement that I have declared a unilateral cease fire," Tariq Khan told reporters. "It is just like some street vendor giving pardon to the prime minster. It means nothing. It's just a statement. So why should I accept it?"
Baited by the press, Khan refused to say whether he would have been willing to sign a deal in Swat had he been in charge there. Khan, who is well respected by the American military, oversees fighting in all of the tribal areas except North and South Waziristan.
Those two agencies are the hub for the Taliban-al Qaeda nexus, where the Pakistani military has signed a deal with the Taliban and where CIA-operated predator drone strikes often attack Taliban and al Qaeda targets. Just today one drone fired two missiles into a house in South Waziristan, killing eight people, local residents told ABC News.
U.S. officials say cooperation along the border between Western forces in Afghanistan, the Afghan military and the Pakistani military has improved. But the 750 mile border still remains extremely porous, threatening troops on both sides.
In Mohmand Agency, just south of Bajaur, the military drove the media to an area known as the Khandaro Valley, just a few miles from Afghanistan. There, Col. Saif Ullah, the commander of Frontier Corps in Mohmand, described how as his forces began beating the Taliban back, militants would disappear.
"These people are now fleeing toward Afghanistan so you need to choke certain areas from where they are coming to their side," he told ABC News when asked where the militants were fleeing. "And moreover, the major armed militants which are coming presently [to Pakistan] are coming from the other side" of the border.
Commanders in both Bajaur and Mohmand say most of the militant commanders are Afghan. In Bajaur, Khan said, 50 percent of the resistance was Afghan, 30 percent were Taliban who traveled from Waziristan, 20 percent were local Taliban. And in both places, commanders said they had heard "chatter" in Arabic. Arab fighters from Sudan and Egypt had been killed, Khan said, a possible indication of al Qaeda links.
Bajaur is a rumored hiding place of Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri. In 2006 a drone strike just missed Zawahiri, U.S. officials said at the time.
Compared to trips organized by the Pakistani military last fall, there is a marked improvement in Bajaur. As recently as November, reporters witnessed constant firing just a few miles from Khar, the Frontier Corps base. Ninety-seven army and Frontier Corps troops have been killed since the operation began in September, Khan said, and now was the time for the government to move in.