WASHINGTON, Sept 13: The Bush administration has approved a three-phase plan to capture top Al Qaeda leaders and has increased military strikes inside Pakistan to achieve this target, a media report said on Saturday.

“The plan represents an 11th-hour effort to hammer Al Qaeda until the Bush administration leaves office,” reported National Public Radio.

NPR is America’s largest and most respect radio network which provides news to 797 radio stations across the country.

According to it, the raid by helicopter-borne US Special Operations forces in Pakistan last week was not an isolated incident but part of this three-phase plan approved by President Bush.

The plan calls for a much more aggressive military campaign and authorises US forces in Afghanistan to take part in operations inside Fata.

“Definitely, the gloves have come off,” a US official who has been briefed on the plan told NPR. “This was only phase 1 of three phases.”

The US intelligence community already had approval from President Bush to carry out operations inside Pakistan, including attacks by Predator drones, which can carry 100-pound Hellfire missiles.

Additional authority came from the president just recently that allowed incursions by US Special Operations forces, the report said.

A second source told NPR that lawmakers on Capitol Hill were briefed on the new plan shortly before The New York Times broke the story this week about the Special Operations’ raid from Afghanistan into Pakistan. The source also said that CIA personnel from around the world were being pulled into the Afghan-Pakistan border area, an intelligence-community “surge” to go after Bin Laden and other Al Qaeda figures.

Some US lawmakers, however, were concerned about the political ramifications of this plan in Pakistan.

NPR noted that the Pakistan government was offering some cooperation in halting the cross-border attacks by the militants hiding in Fata. And Pakistan is a key logistics route for US equipment heading into Afghanistan.

“Should the US raids continue on Pakistani soil, there is fear that the Pakistani government may halt -- or at least curtail -- its cooperation with American counter-terrorist efforts in the border area,” the report said.

A US military officer told NPR that the Pakistani government was given little prior notice of the American military activity.

The report noted that recently Islamabad refused to allow more US Special Operations forces inside Pakistan to train the country’s security forces. Currently, the Pentagon does some limited training of short duration, defence sources say.

US military sources told NPR that the raid last week by an elite US Navy SEAL team was a planned operation that took place miles inside Pakistan and led to the deaths of at least nine and as many as 20 individuals -- some of them civilians. Sources said the raid was part of a “snatch and grab” operation aimed at Taliban or Al Qaeda figures.

A powerful AC-130 gunship, essentially a flying battleship, was used in the operation. The SEAL team members were flown out of Pakistan by helicopter into Afghanistan. A western military source said that a SEAL team remained on standby in Afghanistan for similar missions.

NPR, however, noted that some in the US intelligence community and on Capitol Hill were raising questions about the political intent of this new aggressive stance.

“The question is,” said one of NPR’s sources, “why wasn’t this done a year ago?”

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