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US, NATO Poised to Move Against Al Qaeda and Taliban in Pakistan

Our intelligence analysts have observed several trends and occurrences that indicate the United States and its NATO allies may be preparing to take significant action against the Pakistan-based al Qaeda Central (AQC) and Taliban in 2008 and beyond. In the following estimate, we have outlined these trends and occurrences, along with the US and NATOтАЩs likely courses of action.

II. The following attitudes among American and NATO leadership lead our analysts to conclude that the allies will be more aggressive in targeting AQC and the Taliban within PakistanтАЩs borders:

A) Many in Washington have become increasingly impatient with the Musharraf government because of: a) its lack of progress in battling these Islamist terrorists; and b) its increasing unpopularity among pro-democracy moderates; both of which have lead to increased instability in the nuclear state. Musharraf will soon travel to meet with the leaders and representatives of the leading NATO powers such as the United States, Britain, and France. These NATO leaders will likely pressure Musharraf to allow a greater NATO presence in his country, and to more aggressively pursue democratic reforms.

B) Many NATO policymakers have also become increasingly concerned about the threat posed by AQC, the Taliban, and other Salafi terrorists that are using Pakistan as a base of operations. All of the major terrorist attacks against the US and Europe starting with the 9/11 can be traced back to Pakistan. Almost all the recently foiled plots in the West can also be traced back to Pakistan, including the British Airline Plot, the shoe-bomb plot, the attacks on US military bases in Germany, and several other recently thwarted attacks. Pakistan also serves as a launching point for the TalibanтАЩs insurgency in Afghanistan.

C) Many American politicians, including several the Presidential candidates from both major parties, have called for a greater US presence in Pakistan's tribal areas. These comments almost certainly reflect the advice these politicians are receiving from their foreign-policy and national-security advisors, thus indicating many American policymakers view the current situation in Pakistan as a major strategic concern.

III. These following events indicate the US and NATO are preparing to take more aggressive in Pakistan.

1) US VP Cheney visited Pakistan in early 2007, and apparently discussed the formation of a joint, US-Pakistani special-forces unit that would target AQC and its leadership in Pakistan.

2) The US worked out a tentative deal with former PM Benazir Bhutto that would have allowed US-NATO forces to openly operate and target AQC and the Taliban in the autonomous border regions of Pakistan.

3) The US and NATO forces in neighboring Afghanistan will be increasing in size anywhere from 3,500-7,500 in the next year, and many counterterrorist resources may be shifting from Iraq to South Asia if current trends continue. The US has already committed 3,200 Marines to Afghanistan, a majority of whom will deploy to southern Afghanistan.

4) The CIA has been attempting to expand its special-operations and counterterrorist capabilities for several years, and has recently been considering a more aggressive approach to dealing with AQC and its leaders in Pakistan. Many in the CIA and AmericaтАЩs national-security community have recently opened to the possibility of taking unilateral action against Pakistan-based terrorist groups, without the consent and/or knowledge of the Musharraf government.

5) Afghan leaders have long threatened taking action inside Pakistan and have blamed Pakistani militants for terrorist acts, including the recent hotel bombing in Kabul. In recent days Afghan forces have entered Pakistan and clashed with its troops. AfghanistanтАЩs increased willingness to take action in Pakistan indicates a similar change in attitude among its American allies.

6) Afghanistan-based US SOF were granted permission to pursue terrorists into Pakistan over three years ago, so the rules of engagement will not necessarily require any change before the US can enact these enhanced counterterrorism efforts.

7) The increased stability in Iraq will free up American resources for operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

8) The assassination of Pakistani PeopleтАЩs Party (PPP) leader Benazir Bhutto has led many in AmericaтАЩs national-security community to recognize AQC and the TalibanтАЩs prevalence throughout Pakistan and its intelligence services. Many members of AmericaтАЩs national-security community and diplomatic community are coming to believe that PakistanтАЩs military and intelligence services are too heavily penetrated to ever eliminate the AQC and Taliban leaders operating out of the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and North Waziristan.

9) The recent comments of US military leaders indicate the US is looking to expand its presence in Pakistan's border regions.

10) In recent months, American political rhetoric and media coverage has become increasingly focused on the AQ and Taliban presence in Pakistan. This trend reflects the US Governments growing satisfaction with the status quo in Pakistan.

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