U.S. Steps Up Attacks In Pakistan

The Pentagon won't say anything, but intelligence on the ground suggests that the U.S. is increasing covert military operations against Taliban and al-Qaida targets inside Pakistan's tribal provinces. Why now?

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Pakistan has a new president today. Asif Ali Zardari is sworn in. He's the widower of the slain Pakistani political leader, Benazir Bhutto. This comes just as American forces are stepping up attacks against suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda targets inside Pakistan. NPR Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman, is with us. Tom, welcome back to Day to Day. What are you learning about these most recent strikes? And let me just cite a strike by these Predator planes with missiles, I think, Monday, and then an actual raid in Pakistani territory last week.

TOM BOWMAN: Well, it's interesting. The Pentagon officially won't say anything about this, very little, indeed. And what we're gathering about this really comes from reporters on the ground in Pakistan, eyewitness accounts, and also sort of off-the-record chats we're having with some military people in the Pentagon and elsewhere. It appears that this is a stepped-up effort along the border with Afghanistan. The American military is very concerned that Pakistan isn't doing enough.

The problem is a lot of Islamic fighters - Taliban and others - are moving across the border, attacking Afghan civilians, Afghan army and U.S. forces. They have to stop it. So, clearly, they're stepping up the Predator strikes. And then, as you mentioned last week, there was a raid by special-operations forces who crossed from Afghanistan into Pakistan with helicopters. And we're told it was a snatch-and-grab operation, that they were going after a particular Taliban or Islamic fighter leader. Didn't get that person, but apparently killed some civilians.

CHADWICK: This is - actually, it's a little different from these Predators, which are, kind of, controlled, pilotless drones flying around. This is actual American soldiers landing on the ground in Pakistan and trying to undertake some combat operation there.

BOWMAN: Absolutely. The problem with this - there's two problems, really. The Americans say, listen, these people are leaking across the border. The Pakistanis aren't doing enough to stop it. We're going to have to go in and do it ourselves. But they're being apparently very selective in what they do with the Predator strikes - the Predators carry 100-pound missiles - and small special-operations raids. And the problem is they don't want to destabilize Pakistan. If there's a large raid into their country, you could see hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets in Islamabad, the government could fall, and American military officials tell me that would even be a worse scenario than what they have now.

CHADWICK: So, this situation, is this a beginning of a new offensive? Are we going to be carrying on a lot of activity in this region?

BOWMAN: I don't think a lot of activity. But clearly, when they have what they call actable intelligence, they're going to go over and take it out, either by a pilotless drone or by special-operations raids. And it's interesting to note that just a few weeks before this happened, there was a large meeting of U.S. and Pakistani military officials aboard the aircraft carrier, Abraham Lincoln. It was all the top leaders. It was General David McKiernan from Afghanistan. It was Admiral Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and some Pakistani generals. And although we're not being told what was said at the meeting, it doesn't take a lot to realize that they were clearly talking about the issue at hand. The border region is the number one issue, particularly for the Americans now.

CHADWICK: How does the U.S. government view - how does the Pentagon view Mr. Zardari coming as the new president of Pakistan? Is he a friend?

BOWMAN: Well, it's hard to say. I mean, clearly, he says he's supportive of what the U.S. calls the War on Terror. He's something of an ally of the U.S. But Pentagon officials will tell you privately that they're not sure how supportive these people are in practice. They may talk a good game with the United States, but behind the scenes, may undercut them. So, they're saying, right now, he's saying the right things, but in practice, he's an unknown quantity.

CHADWICK: NPR Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman, bringing us up on the latest developments in Pakistan. Tom, thanks.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Alex.

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CHADWICK: Stay with us on Day to Day from NPR News.

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