U.S. ground forces hit al Qaeda tar­gets in Pak­istan

The Washington Times Weekly - - National Security -

U.S. ground forces crossed the bor­der from Afghanistan and at­tacked sus­pected al Qaeda tar­gets in Pak­istan on sept. 3 as part of an ag­gres­sive new strat­egy to kill or cap­ture Osama bin Laden be­fore Pres­i­dent Bush leaves of­fice, U.S. of­fi­cials said.

The strat­egy also ap­pears in­tended to take ad­van­tage of po­lit­i­cal tur­moil in Pak­istan, where mil­i­tants as­so­ci­ated with Pak­istan’s Tal­iban move­ment at­tempted to kill the prime min­is­ter on Sept. 3 and par­lia­ment was due to elect a new pres­i­dent on Sept. 6.

“I know the hunt is on; they’re pulling out all the stops,” said a De­fense Depart­ment of­fi­cial with knowl­edge of the sit­u­a­tion who asked not to be named. “They are leav­ing no stone un­turned. They want to find bin Laden be­fore the pres­i­dent leaves of­fice and en­sure that al Qaeda will not at­tack the U.S. dur­ing the up­com­ing elec­tions.”

Pak­istan protested the predawn strike and re­ported that women and chil­dren were among 20 civil­ians killed in what Maj. Gen. Athar Ab­bas, a Pak­istan army spokesman, said was the first U.S. ground in­cur­sion into Pak­istani ter­ri­tory.

Pre­vi­ous U.S. at­tacks have come from bombers or un­manned air­craft.

The at­tack took place across from Afghanistan´s bar­ren Pak­tika prov­ince, site of a U.S. mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tion. Pak­istani of­fi­cials said they think the at­tack was mounted by U.S. com­man­dos backed by he­li­copter gun­ships.

The at­tack took place in South Waziris­tan, part of Pak­istan’s Fed­er­ally Ad­min­is­tered Tribal Ar­eas. The tribal ar­eas have be­come safe havens for al Qaeda and Tal­iban mil­i­tants.

Bin Laden and his No. 2, Ay­man al-Zawahri, are thought to be hid­ing there. It was not clear whether any mil­i­tants were killed or cap­tured in the raid.

Nadeem Kiani, a spokesman for the Pak­istani Em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton, said rep­re­sen­ta­tives of his gov­ern­ment met with U.S. Am­bas­sador Anne W. Pat­ter­son in Is­lam­abad on Sept. 3 to protest the strike and com­plain that the United States did “not co­or­di­nate the op­er­a­tion with Pak­istan.”

“They told the am­bas­sador that no­body would like that this sort of event should hap­pen again and that action should be taken against the peo­ple who planned the op­er­a­tion,” Mr. Kiani said. “This is the first time that U.S. ground troops crossed into sov­er­eign ter­ri­tory and that women and chil­dren were killed. For that rea­son, the Pak­istan gov­ern­ment protested the U.S. gov­ern­ment. We have to wait and see why, what rea­son, [the U.S.] would send ground troops.”

The Pak­istani For­eign Min­istry called the raid “a grave provo­ca­tion” and “a gross vi­o­la­tion of Pak­istan’s ter­ri­tory. [. . . ] Such ac­tions are coun­ter­pro­duc­tive and cer­tainly do not help our joint ef­forts to fight ter­ror­ism,” the min­istry said. “On the con­trary, they un­der­mine the very ba­sis of co­op­er­a­tion and may fuel the fire of ha­tred and vi­o­lence that we are try­ing to ex­tin­guish.”

Lt. Col. Pa­trick Ry­der, a Pen­tagon spokesman, said he had “noth­ing to pro­vide” re­gard­ing the in­ci­dent. U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand of­fi­cials also re­fused to com­ment, as did the White House and a spokesman for U.S.-led coali­tion forces in Afghanistan.

A U.S. coun­tert­er­ror­ism of­fi­cial, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity, said that “find­ing bin Laden has al­ways been a pri­or­ity” and that tar­get­ing al Qaeda bases is based on ac­tion­able in­tel­li­gence. How­ever, he added that the Novem­ber elec­tions in the U.S. have re­newed a sense of ur­gency to cap­ture the ter­ror­ist leader. “Any pe­riod of tran­si­tion, like the up­com­ing elec­tion, can be seen as a po­ten­tial vul­ner­a­bil­ity,” he said.

Bruce Riedel, a for­mer se­nior of­fi­cial on the White House Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil and for­mer CIA of­fi­cer, agreed.

“Many peo­ple in the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity are con­cerned about the tran­si­tion in the United States as a time when al Qaeda may strike the U.S.,” he told The Times. “The best de­fense is of­fense to tr y to de­cap­i­tate al Qaeda’s lead­er­ship, but that re­quires ex­traor­di­nar­ily good in­tel­li­gence.”

The Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion also ap­peared to be tak­ing ad­van­tage of a power vacuum in Pak­istan to mount the at­tack.

Pak­istan’s pres­i­dent since 1999, Pervez Mushar­raf, was forced to re­sign last month or face im­peach­ment. Asif Ali Zar­dari, the head of the Pak­istan Peo­ples Party and wid­ower of for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Be­nazir Bhutto, was ex­pected to be elected on Sept. 6 by par­lia­ment but is a con­tro­ver­sial fig­ure.

This ar­ti­cle is based in part on wire ser­vice re­ports.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.