The New York Times reports there is a secret plan to put American
commandos in Pakistan's tribal areas, along the Afghanistan border, to
hunt for terrorists who take refuge there. But the Times says the plan
has not been implemented due to concerns about the impact of such
operations. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.
The Times report says the plan was designed to end disagreements among U.S. government agencies about how to pursue leaders of the al-Qaida terrorist network. But the newspaper says those same disagreements have prevented the plan from being implemented.
In particular, the paper says there is concern about the impact on Pakistan's government, a key U.S. ally, if the presence of U.S. ground troops became public.
The Times reports "mounting frustration" in the U.S. Defense Department about the continuing delay in implementing the plan.
But Spokesman Bryan Whitman says, although he can not comment on
whether any such secret plan exists, he is not aware of any frustration
about not using U.S. troops to hunt terrorists inside Pakistan.
"I, quite frankly, have not sensed that kind of frustration," he said. "I have sensed the same kind of frustration that you have heard from our military commanders, and that is with a border region that is long, challenging, porous, in an area where operations have taken place in the past, and where some elements have appeared to find some safe haven in Pakistan, and what Pakistan is doing to try to address those."
The use of Pakistani territory along the Afghan border as a safe haven for al-Qaida and other terrorist groups has been a cause of growing concern among U.S. officials. The groups regularly send militants across the border to attack U.S., Afghan and allied forces. Pakistan says a U.S. air strike against one such group killed 11 Pakistani soldiers earlier this month.
Last week, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates called the situation "a real concern." But he also said the insurgent activity has increased only recently.
Gates indicated the United States is ready to help Pakistan address the problem, but did not specify exactly how.
"The Pakistani government, I think, now understands that it is a problem for the Pakistani government as well," he said. "It is not just a problem for us. So I think this creates an opportunity for us to talk with them and see if we can work together in a better way to try and deal with the problem in the FATA."
The FATA are Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, along the Afghan border.
The New York Times says its story is based on more than four dozen interviews with current and former U.S. and Pakistani officials. It says al-Qaida now has a string of camps in Pakistan's border area that give it a similar capability to what it had in Afghanistan eight years ago, when it planned the September 11th attacks.
The article quotes the Pakistani general responsible for the region as denying allegations of a strong terrorist presence, but it also quotes U.S. officials who are critical of the general's efforts to get the facts.
For now at least, the United States is only conducting air strikes in the area, based on intelligence reports or when in 'hot pursuit' of terrorist units.
But Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman says the hunt for al-Qaida leaders and the broader war on terrorism are not just U.S. concerns, and American forces will continue to implement the policy outlined by President Bush just after the September 11 attacks.
"We continue to pursue terrorist activities wherever they take place," he said. "We seek to not only deny them operations, but also the ability to plan, seek safe harbor. Our efforts are to identify, capture, if necessary kill."
U.S. officials say when it comes to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area, that effort needs to be pursued in cooperation with those two governments, and with other allies in the NATO and coalition commands.