US military: Taliban spring offensive unlikely in Afghanistan
Concerns grow over inadequate US military intelligence about Taliban and Al Qaeda militants in Pakistan
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"There's gaps in intelligence," [Dell Dailey, the State Department's counterterrorism chief] said during a meeting with reporters. "We don't have enough information about what's going on there. Not on al-Qaida. Not on foreign fighters. Not on the Taliban."
Dailey, a retired Army lieutenant general with extensive background in special operations, said the lack of information makes him "uncomfortable." Yet the solution to the problem rests mainly with the Pakistanis, who would likely see too much U.S. involvement as an unwelcome intrusion.
During his trip to Davos, Switzerland, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf tried to allay the heightened concerns. But he may have added to them by revealing that his soldiers on the border are not actively hunting for Osama bin Laden.
The New York Times blog "The Lede" quotes Musharraf as saying,
The 100,000 troops that we are using … are not going around trying to locate Osama bin Laden and Zawahri, frankly," Musharraf told a conference at the French Institute for International Relations. "They are operating against terrorists, and in the process, if we get them, we will deal with them certainly."
But that's not what the US government wants to hear. The New York Times reported in early January that concerns about catching Mr. bin Laden have led the US military to consider plans for a covert push of its Special Forces inside Pakistan:
President Bush's senior national security advisers are debating whether to expand the authority of the Central Intelligence Agency and the military to conduct far more aggressive covert operations in the tribal areas of Pakistan.
In part, the White House discussions may be driven by a desire for another effort to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Currently, C.I.A. operatives and Special Operations forces have limited authority to conduct counterterrorism missions in Pakistan based on specific intelligence about the whereabouts of those two men, who have eluded the Bush administration for more than six years, or of other members of their terrorist organization, Al Qaeda, hiding in or near the tribal areas.
So far, Musharraf has been categorical in refusing any direct US intervention, which means that intelligence gathering will remain limited.