The Times reports today that President Bush gave an order in July allowing US Special Forces “to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without the prior approval of the Pakistani government, according to senior American officials.” They’ll notify the Pakistani government, but won’t ask permission.

Somewhat buried in the story is the report that “the Pakistani government had privately assented to the general concept of limited ground assaults by Special Operations forces against significant militant targets, but that it did not approve each mission.” In other words, according to the Times, the Pakistani goverment is winking at the idea.

There could hardly be a worse strategy. It risks inflaming Pakistani public opinion against the United States and boost the religious parties. It will make the new Pakistani government look like pawns or puppets of the United States, which won’t exactly make them popular among Pakistanis. And, of course, it won’t be successful in eliminating Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Historians of the Vietnam war might compare the strategy to President Nixon’s ill-fated decision to expand the war across the border into Cambodia in search of alleged Viet Cong “santuaries.” That didn’t work out well.

Perhaps some Pakistani officials, under intense US pressure, did “wink” at the idea. But from the public statements, at least, it appears that Islamabad isn’t happy:

“Unilateral action by the American forces does not help the war against terror because it only enrages public opinion,” said Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, during a speech on Friday. “In this particular incident, nothing was gained by the action of the troops.”

“No external force is allowed to conduct operations inside Pakistan,” the military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, said in what amounted to a direct rebuff to the United States by the Pakistanis. “There is no question of any agreement or understanding with the coalition forces whereby they are allowed to conduct operations on our side of the border.”

The prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, backed Kayani’s statement — even though General Kayani and Prime Minister Gilani are rivals.

Yesterday, testifying at a House committee, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs (“frankly, we are running out of time”) pretty much confirmed the Times report:

The nation’s top military officer issued a blunt assessment yesterday of the war in Afghanistan and called for an overhaul in U.S. strategy there, warning that thousands more U.S. troops as well as greater U.S. military involvement across the border in Pakistan’s tribal areas are needed to battle an intensifying insurgency.

Mullen has been the point man in US efforts to put pressure on Pakistan to allow more aggressive American attacks directly into Pakistan, meeting repeatedly with Kayani and other officials to demand that Islamabad surrender its national sovereignty.