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U.S. Force Not Ruled Out in Pakistan

AP | July 22, 2007
HOPE YEN

The U.S. would consider military force if necessary to stem al-Qaida's growing ability to use its hideout in Pakistan to launch terrorist attacks, a White House aide said Sunday.

The president's homeland security adviser, Fran Townsend, said the U.S. was committed first and foremost to working with Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, in his efforts to control militants in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region. But she indicated the U.S. was ready to take additional measures.

"Just because we don't speak about things publicly doesn't mean we're not doing things you talk about," Townsend said, when asked in a broadcast interview why the U.S. does not conduct special operations and other measures to cripple al-Qaida.

"Job No. 1 is to protect the American people. There are no options off the table," she said.

Responding to earlier comments by Townsend, Pakistan's foreign minister, Khurshid Kasuri, said Sunday that the country's military was in the best position to attack al-Qaida, if the U.S. provided intelligence.

The national intelligence director, Mike McConnell, said he believed that Osama bin Laden was living in the tribal, border region of Pakistan. Bin Laden is the leader of the al-Qaida network and mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.

McConnell said Musharraf's attempt at a political solution to peace in the region had backfired by giving al-Qaida a place and time to regroup.

"Al-Qaida has been able to regain some of its momentum," McConnell said. "The leadership's intact. They have operational planners, and they have safe haven. The thing they're missing are operatives inside the United States."

In the National Intelligence Estimate released last week, analysts stressed the importance of al-Qaida's increasingly comfortable hideout in Pakistan that has resulted from a hands-off accord between Musharraf and tribal leaders along the Afghan border.

That 10-month-old deal, which has unraveled in recent days, gave al-Qaida new opportunities to set up compounds for terror training, improve its international communications with associates and bolster its operations.

Since then, U.S. officials have said they expect Pakistan to launch more military strikes on Islamic militants while the Bush administration pumps hundreds of millions of dollars in development aid into lawless tribal regions to fight extremism.

On Sunday, Townsend reiterated the importance of Musharraf's efforts.

"We should also be clear that we believe Pakistan has been a very good ally in the war on terrorism," she said. "Musharraf has been the subject of numerous assassination attempts. Al-Qaida's trying to kill him. They get what the problem is. And we're working with them to deny al-Qaida and the Taliban the safe haven."

McConnell also sought to bolster the leader of Pakistan, a key U.S. partner in its fight against terrorism. "President Musharraf is one of our strongest allies," McConnell said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he agreed with Townsend that the U.S. should consider going after al-Qaida militarily "wherever they are."

"We have the NIE report, which just came out, that says al-Qaida during this administration is stronger than ever. I don't think we should take anything off the table. Wherever we find these evil people we should go get them," Reid said.

But Kasuri said Pakistan was ready to act on any intelligence from the U.S.

"Let the United States provide us with actionable intelligence and you will find that Pakistan will never be lacking," he said. "Pakistan's army can do the job much better and the result will be that there will be far less collateral damage."

Townsend spoke on "Fox News Sunday" and "Late Edition" on CNN. McConnell appeared on "Meet the Press" on NBC. Reid was on "Face the Nation" on CBS. Kasuri was on CNN.

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