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Attacking Al-Qaida In Pakistan

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is Weekend Edition from NPR News, I'm Scott Simon. NPR News has learned that last week's raid into Pakistan from Afghanistan was not an isolated incident. It was part of new, intensified, and phased effort to go after both al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives inside Pakistan before the Bush administration leaves office. Sources say the raid was phase one of a three-part operation. CIA personnel, both armed operatives and analysts, are being pulled into the effort. NPR's Tom Bowman joins us. Thanks for being with us.

TOM BOWMAN: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: And what more have you learned?

BOWMAN: Well, again, this is an intensified effort. As one of our sources said, they're taking the gloves off to go after bin Laden and others up in the tribal areas of Pakistan, which is really a safe haven for those coming into Afghanistan. And again, it's phase one. This raid was phase one of a three-phase effort. And CIA officers are being pulled from all around the world just to focus on this border area to go after these operatives.

SIMON: You mention Osama bin Laden by name. Do they know if Osama bin Laden is somewhere there?

BOWMAN: Well, they assume he's in that region, this wild tribal area, very mountainous along the border with Afghanistan. They assume he's there. The last radio contact they had with bin Laden is six years ago in the Tora Bora area of Afghanistan just across the border. So, they assume he's not all that far away from there.

SIMON: But to the best of your knowledge no new intelligence information that would directly reflect that?

BOWMAN: No, no intelligence information yet. It's an assumption that most people have.

SIMON: Have congressional leaders been informed?

BOWMAN: They have been informed. They were told about this just before The New York Times broke the story of this raid last - early this week. And the chairmen were informed, and also the full committees were informed. But there's some concern of the political fallout here, particularly in Pakistan. The Pakistanis are going after some of these operatives in the tribal areas. Many in the military are saying they're not doing enough. But Pakistan is also important because it's a logistics line into Afghanistan for material to help fight the Afghan war. So, it's crucial to have Pakistan on the American side. And some worry that more and more of these raids could jeopardize that.

SIMON: Do you know anything about the Pentagon assets, as we call it euphemistically, that there would - what units might be operating, what weaponry?

BOWMAN: Well, we're told there is a Navy Seal team on standby in Afghanistan ready to take part in some of these missions. And it was a Seal team that took part in this raid last week against what we're told is an al-Qaeda safe house or a compound. As few as nine, as many as 20 were killed. The military is saying many of them were al-Qaeda operatives. The Pakistani and local people are saying there were civilians involved as well, civilians killed.

SIMON: Is there new intelligence that would give them new reasons to go after people in this area?

BOWMAN: We don't have any sense that there's new intelligence, and some of our sources are raising that political question, saying why wasn't more done over the past seven years in this area? And why is it being done now? There's a sense among some sources that there's a political element to this, that the Bush administration only has four or five months left, and that maybe they want to try get a pelt for the wall, Osama bin Laden being the number one. And so, there's some concern about that.

SIMON: NPR's Tom Bowman, 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 Weekend Edition Saturday
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.