Washington/New York/Islamabad, Jan.7 : The recent assassination of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and the inability of the caretaker government in that country to stop terror tactics in the tribal badlands, may convince U.S.President George W.Bush to consider expanding the covert operations of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the area, the New York Times reports.
According to an article contributed to the paper by Carlotta Gall in Islamabad and David Rohde in New York, American security advisers and the military have reportedly advised President Bush to conduct far more aggressive covert operations in Pakistan's tribal areas.
Basing their assessment on intelligence reports that Al Qaeda and the Taliban are intensifying efforts there to destabilize the Pakistani government, the advisers and senior administration officials have called for a broad reassessment of American strategy and to focuson how to handle the period from now to the February 18 elections, and the aftermath.
A majority of the officials are of the view that President Pervez Musharraf and the caretaker government are presently facing a very grave situation, which would eventually require giving the United States more latitude.
However, no decisions have been announced owing to the highly delicate nature of the discussions.
The Bush Administration has not formally presented any new proposals to President Musharraf, who gave up his military role last month, or to his successor as the army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who the White House thinks will be more sympathetic to the American position than Mr. Musharraf.
"After years of focusing on Afghanistan, we think the extremists now see a chance for the big prize - creating chaos in Pakistan itself," the paper quoted an unnamed senior official, as saying.
The new options for expanded covert operations include loosening restrictions on the C.I.A. to strike selected targets in Pakistan, in some cases using intelligence provided by Pakistani sources, officials said.
Most counterterrorism operations in Pakistan have been conducted by the C.I.A.; in Afghanistan, where military operations are under way, including some with NATO forces, the military can take the lead.
The legal status would not change if the administration decided to act more aggressively. However, if the C.I.A. were given broader authority, it could call for help from the military or deputize some forces of the Special Operations Command to act under the authority of the agency.
The United States now has about 50 soldiers in Pakistan. Any expanded operations using C.I.A. operatives or Special Operations forces, like the Navy Seals, would be small and tailored to specific missions, the paper quoted military officials, as saying.
There some American diplomats and military officials who argue that American-led military operations on the Pakistani side of the border with Afghanistan could result in a tremendous backlash and ultimately do more harm than good.
The paper concludes that White House discussions may be driven by a desire for another effort to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri. (ANI)
© 2007 ANI
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