March 9, 2007

US Enters Pakistan On Bin Laden Hunt

The US has sent CIA special operations units into Pakistan to hunt down fresh leads on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders, the London Telegraph reports. The action comes just a few weeks after American officials presented Pervez Musharraf with evidence of AQ's growing presence in Waziristan and demanded action to destroy them:

America is stepping up its hunt for Osama bin Laden by dispatching additional CIA operatives and paramilitary officers to Pakistan to kill or capture the al-Qa'eda leader.

US officials said that the mission is intended to intensify the pressure on the terrorist leader, who turns 50 tomorrow, and perhaps force him into making a mistake. He is widely believed to be hiding in the region bordering Afghanistan.

Satellite photographs and details of communications intercepts were given to President Musharraf of Pakistan last week by Stephen Kappes, deputy director of the CIA, as part of a strategy to persuade him to give US intelligence agencies more assistance. ...

"Reports that the trail has gone stone cold are not correct," an American official said afterwards. "We are very much increasing our efforts there."

Intelligence officials believe that Osama normally goes on the move in March, when the bitter winters in that region finally dissipate and travel can resume. Movement makes people more vulnerable, and the US wants to catch him in transition. They believe that he has built the camps with the aim to run the Taliban and AQ operations directly and in person, and hope to catch him either at the camps or on his way to them.

For those who want action in Pakistan, it seems to be coming true. The US has tried to avoid trammeling Pakistani sovereignty in the past in order to keep from destabilizing Musharraf. The deal Musharraf signed with Waziri tribal leaders has changed the American perspective, it appears. If Musharraf will not fight for his sovereignty in Waziristan, then the US apparently has decided that we do not need to honor it, and will attack AQ assets ourselves. Admiral Mike McConnell signaled this last week in testimony to the Senate. The new Director of National Intelligence told the Senators that he would focus "with great intensity" on AQ's Pakistani outposts.

It seems as if Dick Cheney's visit to Pakistan meant something rather significant for Musharraf. With AQ more active than any time in the last five years, and with Musharraf sitting on his hands, Cheney's visit was meant as an ultimatum for action. If Musharraf won't fight terrorists, then we have less interest in preventing his destabilization. Musharraf responded by arresting two senior members of the Taliban outside of Waziristan, and his lack of response thus far to American operations in Waziristan seems to indicate acquiescence to the new American policy.

Expect a much greater latitude in American action across the Afghan/Pakistani border from this point forward -- a new policy that will cripple the Taliban's expected spring offensive, and perhaps force Osama and Ayman al-Zawahiri to flee their safety zone.

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