The Times of London reports that the US and the UK have launched the most extensive operations within Pakistan since 9/11 to capture Osama bin Laden. The new operation reportedly has Pakistani approval and aims to flush Osama towards the Afghanistan border. If they succeed, they plan on throwing quite the party for bin Laden:
The Special Boat Service (SBS) and the Special Reconnaissance Regiment have been taking part in the US-led operations to capture Bin Laden in the wild frontier region of northern Pakistan. It is the first time they have operated across the Afghan border on a regular basis.
The hunt was “completely sanctioned” by the Pakistani government, according to a UK special forces source. It involves the use of Predator and Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles fitted with Hellfire missiles that can be used to take out specific terrorist targets. …
A Pentagon source said US forces were rolling up Al-Qaeda’s network in Pakistan in the hope of pushing Bin Laden towards the Afghan border, where the US military and bombers with guided missiles were lying in wait. “They are prepping for a major battle,” he said.
Can they get Osama after over six years of frustration? The intel appears much improved over the last few months. We have hit major elements of al-Qaeda with drone and missile attacks in 2008, which indicates that the US has begun to unravel some important parts of the AQ network. They may have figured out a specific region in which Osama has hidden himself, perhaps along with Ayman al-Zawahiri. If the US and UK feel that they can send more Special Forces personnel into Pakistan, they could start conducting serious operations to either capture or kill the pair, or at least drive them into the open.The Times reports this as George Bush’s insistence on nailing Osama before he leaves office. However, this may have more to do with developments within Pakistan rather than in Washington. The Pakistanis have all but ceded sovereignty over the frontier provinces to the Taliban, negotiating for coexistence instead of combating the Islamists. The Pakistani Army has begun to retreat from its responsibilities in the region, which gives the US and UK an opportunity to operate without bumping into Pakistani soldiers.
The real key to this isn’t the end of George Bush’s term in office. It’s the likelihood that Pervez Musharraf won’t remain in office much longer, perhaps exiting before the end of the Bush term. Once Musharraf goes, the US will never get the same level of cooperation from Pakistan’s armed forces — which makes it imperative that they start rolling the dice now.