UPDATE: US could strike "actionable targets" in Pakistan
White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters this morning that President Bush has not ruled out military action in Pakistan’s tribal areas against Taliban and Al Qaeda forces. Aboard Air Force One, Snow said, “We never rule out any options, including striking actionable targets.” By actionable targets, Snow presumably means individuals or Al Qaeda holdouts that the United States knows about and can hit.
The full text of the exchange with a reporter follows:
Q Can I change the subject to Pakistan? Does the President have full confidence in Musharraf, particularly given the violence there from the Islamic —
MR. SNOW: Well, I think — look, President Musharraf has put his life on the line and has been a very important ally in the war on terror. It’s also clear that Taliban and al Qaeda, in the northwest territories and the federally administered tribal areas, have begun to put on operations that threaten the government of Pakistan itself, which is why President Musharraf, having tried one approach, in terms of dealing with the tribal leaders, is now going to have to be more aggressive and is being more aggressive moving forces into the region to deal with the security problems there.
Q Does the President rule out any U.S. military activity in Pakistan?
MR. SNOW: We never rule out any options, including striking actionable targets.
When asked, “Would the President seek Musharraf’s permission to strike an actionable [target]?” Snow refused to say one way or the other. “Those are matters that are best not discussed publicly,” he said.
This represents an increase in the U.S. pressure on Musharraf–which was already considerable–and effectively puts him on notice directly from the White House: If Musharraf can’t handle the Al Qaeda problem, the United States will.