WASHINGTON, July 23: The US has provided intelligence to Pakistan about senior Al Qaeda leaders allegedly hiding in its tribal region. Senior White House aide Frances Townsend was responding to a question on CNN regarding Pakistan’s demand to provide intelligence about the alleged hideouts instead of threatening it with direct strikes.

Appearing on CNN’s ‘Late Edition’, Foreign Minister Kurshid Kasuri had warned US troops against bypassing the Pakistani military in any operation. “If you have superiority in technical intelligence, please share that with us,” he said, adding “and then you talk of going after targets”.

Mr Kasuri said the US will lose “the battle for hearts and minds” if it took direct military action inside its territory.

Responding to Mr Kasuri’s criticism, Ms Townsend told CNN that the US provided intelligence to Pakistan. “We work quite closely with them,” she said. “While I understand (Mr Kasuri’s) anger, we should also be clear that we believe Pakistan has been a very good ally in the war on terrorism.”

But she added: “No question that we will use any instrument at our disposal to deal with the problem of Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri and Al Qaeda.”

Senator Evan Bayh, an Indiana Democrat, appearing on Fox News, called into question whether Pakistan has the ability to defeat Al Qaeda. “Are they capable of doing this even if they want to?” he asked. Mr Bayh, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, suggested that the US should consider using “covert means” to get Al Qaeda leaders hiding in the tribal region.

“But you’ve got to be careful, because if it is clear that we’re going into their national territory, we run the risk of undermining a regime that has been one of our allies in this struggle,” he said.

Senator Kit Bond, the top Republican on the committee, however, conceded that the exact locations of bin Laden and al-Zawahiri were not known. “If we knew precisely where (they) were, action would be taken,” he said. “I am confident of that.”

Mr Bond also acknowledged that the area where the Al Qaeda leaders were supposedly hiding was “absolutely treacherous and almost inaccessible.”

He said last year Senator Bayh and he had visited Fata and learned how tribes destroyed a military checkpoint which Pakistan had established in one of those areas, killing 12 soldiers. “It is not an easy place, even for the military of the government of Pakistan,” he added. But US intelligence chief Mike McConnell insisted that bin Laden and his deputy were hiding in the tribal region.

“My view is that he’s alive,” said Mr McConnell on NBC television. “I believe he is in the tribal region of Pakistan.”