Attacking Al-Qaida In Pakistan

The U.S. military raid in Pakistan last week was part of an intensified campaign to attack al-Qaida and the Taliban inside Pakistan. NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman talks with host Scott Simon about how CIA officers are being pulled from around the world for this campaign.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is Weekend Edition from NPR News, I'm Scott Simon. NPR News has learned that last week's raid into Pakistan from Afghanistan was not an isolated incident. It was part of new, intensified, and phased effort to go after both al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives inside Pakistan before the Bush administration leaves office. Sources say the raid was phase one of a three-part operation. CIA personnel, both armed operatives and analysts, are being pulled into the effort. NPR's Tom Bowman joins us. Thanks for being with us.

TOM BOWMAN: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: And what more have you learned?

BOWMAN: Well, again, this is an intensified effort. As one of our sources said, they're taking the gloves off to go after bin Laden and others up in the tribal areas of Pakistan, which is really a safe haven for those coming into Afghanistan. And again, it's phase one. This raid was phase one of a three-phase effort. And CIA officers are being pulled from all around the world just to focus on this border area to go after these operatives.

SIMON: You mention Osama bin Laden by name. Do they know if Osama bin Laden is somewhere there?

BOWMAN: Well, they assume he's in that region, this wild tribal area, very mountainous along the border with Afghanistan. They assume he's there. The last radio contact they had with bin Laden is six years ago in the Tora Bora area of Afghanistan just across the border. So, they assume he's not all that far away from there.

SIMON: But to the best of your knowledge no new intelligence information that would directly reflect that?

BOWMAN: No, no intelligence information yet. It's an assumption that most people have.

SIMON: Have congressional leaders been informed?

BOWMAN: They have been informed. They were told about this just before The New York Times broke the story of this raid last - early this week. And the chairmen were informed, and also the full committees were informed. But there's some concern of the political fallout here, particularly in Pakistan. The Pakistanis are going after some of these operatives in the tribal areas. Many in the military are saying they're not doing enough. But Pakistan is also important because it's a logistics line into Afghanistan for material to help fight the Afghan war. So, it's crucial to have Pakistan on the American side. And some worry that more and more of these raids could jeopardize that.

SIMON: Do you know anything about the Pentagon assets, as we call it euphemistically, that there would - what units might be operating, what weaponry?

BOWMAN: Well, we're told there is a Navy Seal team on standby in Afghanistan ready to take part in some of these missions. And it was a Seal team that took part in this raid last week against what we're told is an al-Qaeda safe house or a compound. As few as nine, as many as 20 were killed. The military is saying many of them were al-Qaeda operatives. The Pakistani and local people are saying there were civilians involved as well, civilians killed.

SIMON: Is there new intelligence that would give them new reasons to go after people in this area?

BOWMAN: We don't have any sense that there's new intelligence, and some of our sources are raising that political question, saying why wasn't more done over the past seven years in this area? And why is it being done now? There's a sense among some sources that there's a political element to this, that the Bush administration only has four or five months left, and that maybe they want to try get a pelt for the wall, Osama bin Laden being the number one. And so, there's some concern about that.

SIMON: NPR's Tom Bowman, thanks very much.

BOWMAN: You're welcome.

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Pakistan Raid Start Of Concerted Bid To Hit Al-Qaida

NPR has learned that the raid by helicopter-borne U.S. Special Operations forces in Pakistan last week was not an isolated incident but part of a three-phase plan, approved by President Bush, to strike at Osama bin Laden and top al-Qaida leadership.

The plan calls for a much more aggressive military campaign, said one source, familiar with the presidential order, which gives the green light for the military to take part in the operations. The plan represents an 11th-hour effort to hammer al-Qaida until the Bush administration leaves office, two government officials told NPR.

"Definitely, the gloves have come off," said a source who has been briefed on the plan. "This was only Phase 1 of three phases."

Pentagon and White House officials have declined to discuss the new plan.

The intelligence community already had approval from the president to carry out operations inside Pakistan, which included attacks by Predator drones, which can carry 100-pound Hellfire missiles.

Additional authority came from the president just recently that allowed incursions by U.S. Special Operations forces, the source said.

A second source said that lawmakers on Capitol Hill were briefed on the new plan shortly before The New York Times broke the story this week about the Special Operations raid from Afghanistan into Pakistan. The source also said that CIA personnel from around the world were being pulled into the Afghan-Pakistan border area, an intelligence-community "surge" to go after bin Laden and other al-Qaida figures.

There was concern by some lawmakers about the political ramifications in Pakistan. The Pakistan government is offering some cooperation in halting the cross-border attacks by Islamist fighters from the tribal areas into Afghanistan. And Pakistan is a key logistics route for U.S. equipment heading into Afghanistan.

Should the U.S. raids continue on Pakistani soil, there is fear that the Pakistani government may halt — or at least curtail — its cooperation with American counterterrorist efforts in the border area. A military source says that the Pakistani government side is given little prior notice of the American military activity.

There have been some complaints within the military that the Pakistanis, even before last week's raid, were not doing enough to stop the cross-border attacks. And the nation's leaders are balking at allowing more Special Operations forces inside Pakistan to train the country's security forces. Currently, the Pentagon does some limited training of short duration, defense sources say.

Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress this week that he is drafting a new military strategy for both Afghanistan and Pakistan. And he mentioned that he continues to press Pakistani military and government leaders to do more to curtail the activities of Islamist extremists in the tribal lands.

The raid last week by an elite U.S. Navy SEAL team was a planned operation that took place miles inside Pakistan and led to the deaths of at least nine and as many as 20 individuals — some of them civilians. Sources say the raid was part of a "snatch and grab" operation aimed at Taliban or al-Qaida figures.

A powerful AC-130 gunship, essentially a flying battleship, was used in the operation. The SEAL team members were flown out of Pakistan by helicopter into Afghanistan. A western military source says a SEAL team remains on standby for similar missions on short notice.

"They were definitely after al-Qaida forces," said one of the sources. "But the bleedover between those two," he added, referring to the Taliban, "is significant."

Both sources say those in the intelligence community and on Capitol Hill are raising questions about the political intent of this new aggressive stance.

"The question is," said one of the sources, "Why wasn't this done a year ago?"

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