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US hunt for Osama to be allowed: report

July 05, 2008

WASHINGTON, July 4: When Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani meets President George W. Bush at the White House on June 28, he will tell the US leader that Islamabad will tolerate a US incursion into Fata if it is directed specifically against Al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden or Ayman Al Zawahiri – but nobody else, says a report published on Friday.

Quoting senior US and Pakistani officials, the Time magazine reported that the prime minister, however, would also tell Mr Bush that Pakistan would not allow incursions into its territory for any other Al Qaeda or Taliban leaders.

“If they do a raid and they find No. 3 or No. 4 or No. 5 but don’t get Bin Laden, it’s going to be a real problem,” said the report, quoting a senior Pakistani official.

The magazine noted that while such incursions could destabilise the Pakistani government, “risking Pakistan instability may be the only way” for President Bush to get the two top Al Qaeda leaders before he completed his second and final term later this year.

US counter-terrorism officials told the magazine that the best hope for nabbing No. 1 and No. 2 might lie in the capture of second-tier Al Qaeda commanders who knew where their bosses were hiding. The magazine also quoted a recent CIA report speculating that Bin Laden had long-term kidney disease and might have only months to live.

The Pentagon has already sent an official request to President Bush asking him to sign an “executive order” to expand its authority to go after terrorist leaders hiding in Fata, the report said.

The Pentagon’s request for cross-border strikes from Afghanistan into Pakistan was awaiting consideration by President Bush and his top advisers, the report added.

Some in the Bush administration, however, are reluctant to cross that line for fear of destabilising Pakistan’s recently elected government, the report said.

The Bush administration limited cross-border operations when Gen Pervez Musharraf was in charge in Islamabad, on the grounds that they might undermine the authority of a key ally in the war on terrorism.

The magazine noted that it’s a “difficult decision” for President Bush to make. “If Mr Bush signs the execute order, he will be increasing the risk that faulty intelligence could produce tragic mistakes – and public relations disasters – like the US air strike on June 10 that killed 11 Pakistani paramilitary soldiers near the Afghan border, causing explosive outrage nationwide.”

On Thursday, the Pentagon extended the deployment of 2,200 marines in Afghanistan by an additional 30 days, breaking an earlier promise to send them home on time.

The marines are from 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which is doing combat operations in the volatile southern parts of Afghanistan.

The new order means they will come home in early November rather than October as the Pentagon promised earlier this year, according to David Nevers, a Pentagon spokesman.

“Their extension comes at the request of International Security Assistance Force, and with the approval of Defence Secretary Robert Gates,” he said.