Questions have been raised in the United States over whether the Bush administration had any advance warning of last September's terrorist attacks and whether plans were already in place to strike al-Qaida targets in Afghanistan.

Senior Defense Department officials say they had no warning and did not have plans in place for a military assault on al-Qaida targets in Afghanistan before last September's terrorist strikes on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

"There were no plans in place or contingency plans that were pulled off the shelf and dusted off, on Afghanistan," said Victoria Clarke, chief Pentagon spokeswoman.

However Ms. Clarke acknowledges the U.S. intelligence community did have a plan in development before last September's suicide attacks.

She gives no details. But news reports describe it as a covert program to aid anti-Taleban fighters in Afghanistan. It reportedly did not include proposals for U.S. airstrikes or the insertion of American ground troops.

Ms. Clarke says al-Qaida's ability to prepare and launch further terrorist attacks from its bases in Afghanistan has been largely eroded by the military action launched less than a month after the bloody attacks on the Pentagon and Twin Trade Towers.

But she and Marine Corps Lieutenant General Gregory Newbold of the Pentagon's Joint Staff say that does not mean al-Qaida is no longer a threat.

General Newbold says another al-Qaida terrorist attack is almost inevitable. "They definitely have the will. They've shown that. They have the numbers of people, who operated out of training camps in Afghanistan for a number of years. And they have the resources. So I think it's predictable," he said.

General Newbold says U.S. forces worldwide remain at a heightened state of alert because of continuing threats posed by al-Qaida and its supporters.