NEW YORK, July 8: A secret US mission in 2005 to capture senior Al Qaeda members in Pakistan's tribal areas was aborted at the last moment when Bush administration officials decided it was too risky and could jeopardise relations with Pakistan, The New York Times reported on Sunday.
Quoting former intelligence and military officials, one of them involved in the planning, the Times said that the target was a meeting of Al Qaeda leaders. That conference was thought by intelligence officials to have included Ayman Al Zawahri, Osama bin Laden's top deputy, who was believed to run the group's operations, it said. But the mission was called off after Donald Rumsfeld, then the defence secretary, rejected an 11th-hour appeal by Porter J. Goss, then the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, officials said. Members of a Navy Seals unit in parachute gear had already boarded C-130 cargo planes in Afghanistan when the mission was cancelled, said a former senior intelligence official.
Rumsfeld felt the mission, which grew from a small number of personnel to several hundred, would risk too many US lives, and was also concerned about possible repercussions on US-Pakistan relations, the Times said.
But that decision also frustrated some top intelligence officials and members of the military's secret Special Operations units. Some said the United States missed a significant opportunity to nab senior Al Qaeda members, the newspaper reported.
Another concern was that the United States could not carry out the mission without President General Pervez Musharraf's permission, which was unlikely given its size and scope, the officials said.
The former intelligence official, involved in the mission's planning, said it grew to the point where “the whole thing turned into the invasion of Pakistan,” which he nonetheless felt was still worth the risk.
“We wanted to take a shot,” the official added. Several former officials said it was not the only time since the September 11 attacks that plans were developed for a large US military force in Pakistan, the Times said.
Spokesmen for the Pentagon, CIA and the White House declined to comment, the Times said. The newspaper said it was not clear whether President George W. Bush was informed about the planned operation.
However, the newspaper did not give any reason for publishing the report two years after the reported event which never happened but it displayed it as if it happened yesterday.