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Bush Puts New Focus On Bin Laden, Al-Qaida

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

We have an exclusive report now on the Pentagon's efforts to go after al-Qaida and the Taliban in the mountains of Northwest Pakistan. NPR has learned that last week's raid by special operations forces into Pakistan from Afghanistan is part of a new intensified effort to go after terrorists between now and Election Day. NPR's Tom Bowman is with the story. And Tom, tell us what you've learned?

TOM BOWMAN: Well, Melissa, government sources tell my colleague Tom Gjelten and me that this is again part of an intensified effort to go after Osama Bin Laden, other al-Qaida leaders in the Taliban in the northwest areas of Pakistan. And it's a three-phased operation. We just saw a face, one - and they're going to keep going. And we're also hearing that they're pulling CIA operatives from around the world and focusing them on this area including CIA paramilitary forces and also analysts.

BLOCK: What about members of Congress? Are they in the loop?

BOWMAN: Well, members of Congress were told about this last week just before the New York Times are ready to break a story on the raid into Pakistan. And there are some concerns on the Hill that this could have a political backlash effect in Pakistan. Now, the United States depends on Pakistan not only to go after some of these Taliban and al-Qaida operatives in the northwest territories, but also for logistics into Afghanistan moving supplies and fuel into Afghanistan.

Pakistan is key on that and they're worried that if you press too hard, if you have too many raids into Pakistan, they may balk at letting you take the equipment through Pakistan.

BLOCK: We're talking about a three-phase operation, intensified effort, where's the authority for this coming from?

BOWMAN: Well, the authority comes from the president. Now, he's already signed off in allowing the intelligence community to do this. And the intelligence community, the CIA, has been operating unmanned drones called predators up in this area. And they have intensified the number of air strikes from the predator. And the predator drops 100-pound missile. And again, we'll see more CIA operatives up there , more analyst, and now, the president has given authority for the military to go in. And we know that this SEAL team, the Navy SEAL team standby in Afghanistan ready to mount these kinds of missions.

BLOCK: And the raid into Pakistan was by Navy SEALS, right?

BOWMAN: That's right. The raid into Pakistan last week was by Navy SEALS going after in al-Qaida stronghold. And we're told as many as 20 were killed. Although the Pakistani side said that there were some civilians killed as well.

BLOCK: Tom, we mentioned the timing of this. And let's talk a bit more about that. I mean, we are 50 some days away from Election Day.

BOWMAN: Well, some of the sources raise that question as well, that it's so close to the election. They take there may be a political element to this, a legacy building in the part of the Bush administration. And they answer question why wasn't it more done over the past seven years? So there's a real concern in some quarters that this is politically motivated.

BLOCK: Could be an October surprise?

BOWMAN: it could be an October surprise or maybe even a September surprise.

BLOCK: NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Tom, thanks very much.

BOWMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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United States & World Morning EditionAll Things Considered
Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.
As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.