For years, the media has covered the two US wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan but a third conflict in Pakistan is almost never thought of as a war.
Now the US may be in the process of escalating that unofficial war in Pakistan, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow observed Thursday.
Since President Barack Obama took office, the US has increased the number of airstrikes in Pakistan by unmanned aerial vehicles. "We have shot missiles at people in Pakistan 20 times in the past 23 days," Maddow noted Wednesday.
Pakistan has largely been silent about the unmanned airstrikes but that changed after reports said the US had started using manned aircraft. Pakistan reportedly closed down US supply lines leading into Afghanistan when they learned that a US helicopter had attacked inside Pakistan.
Pakistan closed down a critical supply route for U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan on Thursday after U.S. helicopters crossed into Pakistan during a confused, predawn attack that killed three Pakistani paramilitary troops.
Pakistan shuttered one of the two main crossings into Afghanistan hours after a pair of Apache helicopters apparently attacked a border post, manned by the paramilitary Frontier Corps, about 200 yards inside Pakistan.
Hundreds of supply trucks bound for the busy Torkham crossing north of Peshawar were sidelined in Pakistan as the U.S.-led security force said it was investigating.
While the Obama administration has increased operations in Pakistan, they have been cautious not to call it the "war on terror" as the Bush administration often did. Maddow pointed Thursday that the war on terror was meant to be something that wasn't rooted in a single country. "[The idea is that] it has to be a global war, a war anywhere on earth. Countries don't really matter," Maddow explained.
"But countries do matter, borders do matter. They matter as much to anyone else in the world as they do to us."
"And apparently now Pakistan is over us. They are over us acting like the war on people who happen to live in Pakistan, even though we don't say it's a war on Pakistan, is starting to feel like a war on Pakistan," she said.
Pakistan has received about one airstrike per day for the past month, by Maddow's calculations. And the US said the recent helicopter attack was following the rules because they were in "hot pursuit."
A NATO helicopter strike along the Pakistani border today killed three Pakistani soldiers and appears to indicate a new willingness by coalition forces in Afghanistan to engage in a strategy of "hot pursuit" against militants operating from the relative safety of Pakistan.
But a change of direction may ultimately place a great strain on relations with Pakistan and prove counterproductive, according to retired general Talat Masood.
“These attacks are very serious for Pakistan. It goes to show [coalition forces] are expanding their zone of conflict and violating Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty,” he says.
“This war against militants is not just a question of using force – you have to get the whole country to support you. You should not alienate the people in such a way which can be very harmful,” he says, adding that such strikes have the power to “destabilize” Pakistan.
Gen. David Petraeus, the top US commander in Pakistan, suggested last year that the US reserves the right to send troops into the country.
"I think we would never give up, if you will, the right of last resort if we assess something as a threat to us, noting that what we want to do is enable the Pakistanis, help them, assist them to deal with the problem that we now think, and their leaders certainly now think, represents the most important existential threat to their country, not just to the rest of the world," he said.
This all led Pakistan's foreign minister to ask, "If you are being attacked are you fighting a war or are you in war together?"
"If the United States decides that where it wants to fight happens to be in your country, the idea of what we're doing may transcend national boundaries, but the fighting doesn't. The fighting happens in specific places," explained Maddow.
"If what's going on with this escalation that no one is talking about is that the war in Afghanistan is sort of officially expanding into Pakistan, then this isn't just ho-hum, another chapter in the global war that's everywhere, this is Laos and Cambodia, 1970," she continued.
"What it seems like is going on right now is that the US is testing, US officials and US military leaders are testing the idea of the war in Afghanistan being extended to Pakistan. And they're doing it quietly. But they're talking about it like it's unavoidable as if it's some natural extension of what it is we are already doing in the other war," she said.
"If that is what's happening, if that is what's happening, if they're test driving, floating this idea of the war expanding into Pakistan, it is not a secret, and it is not going to be a secret. I guarantee it. I don't plan on being quiet about it. In fact, I plan on screaming bloody murder about it," Maddow concluded.