Sat, Mar 28, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Obama targets al-Qaeda in new plan


US President Barack Obama was to unveil yesterday a new offensive against militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan, aiming to deal a death blow to al-Qaeda more than seven years after the Sept. 11 attacks.

To win a war aides said was “adrift,” the new president would dispatch 4,000 extra troops to train the Afghan army, on top of 17,000 deployments already authorized and in the face of critics who have warned of a quagmire.

Obama will also send hundreds more civilian officials into Afghanistan and stump up billions of dollars of extra aid to help Pakistan secure its democracy, senior administration officials said.

“It is a clear, concise, attainable goal, and that goal is to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda in its safe havens in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” one official said on condition of anonymity.

The strategy establishes clear benchmarks to judge the effort by the US and its allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan, another official said.

The officials accused the previous administration of leaving US policy “adrift” in the two nations and said they would approach China, India and even US foe Iran to ease the situation.

“Seven-and-a-half years after September 11, the al-Qaeda core leadership, Osama bin Laden and others, have moved from Kandahar, Afghanistan, to a location unknown, somewhere in Pakistan,” one official said.

“We know they are plotting new attacks against the United States, against our allies, against our forces in Afghanistan, against our Pakistani friends as well,” the official said.

The officials discounted critics who oppose escalating the US role in the conflict, warning that given a vacuum, the Taliban would return in force, and bring al-Qaeda along.

The officials also said the Taliban had made a “very significant comeback in the last two years” that could not be allowed to take root.

Pakistan was rocked by another blast yesterday, as a suicide bomber blew himself up in a packed mosque at Friday prayers, killing 48 people and wounding dozens in one of the deadliest attacks in the nuclear-armed nation.

The bombing took place on the weekly Muslim day of rest in the town of Jamrud in the restive Khyber tribal region, which is located on a key road used to ferry supplies to Western troops across the border in Afghanistan.

It came just hours before Obama was to unveil his new offensive against terror havens.

“Forty-eight bodies have been pulled out of the debris and many others may still be trapped under the rubble,” Tariq Hayat, the top administration official in Khyber, said by telephone.

“More than 70 people were wounded. There may be many more dead,” he said.

“The bomber was present inside the mosque and blew himself up when Friday prayers began,” Hayat said.

“The entire building collapsed,” a top security official said, referring to the temporary mosque, which had been set up by local police and paramilitary troops who have a camp in the surrounding area of remote, mountainous Khyber.

It was the deadliest bomb blast in Pakistan since 60 people died in a suicide truck bomb at the five-star Marriott Hotel in Islamabad last September.

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