US works on essential ground support for a bin Laden strike

Terror in America: Pakistan
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The Independent Online

With America's military planners considering every option for retaliation, officials are involved in close discussions with their Pakistani counterparts about how to carry out strikes on neighbouring Afghanistan without adding to an already tense political situation inside that country.

A delegation of American officials is to arrive in Pakistan this week to discuss ground support requirements for military action. Washington has not asked Pakistan to allow it to base large numbers of troops on its soil – a request that would be both politically difficult for the Pakistan government and logistically difficult for American forces.

But one alternative would be to use Special Forces to conduct raids on Osama bin Laden's bases inside Afghanistan. The Washington Post reported yesterday that under the options being considered, assault troops would be moved into Pakistan only at the last moment – probably from ships in the Arabian Sea or from friendly Gulf nations such as Kuwait and Oman.

Military planners believe that even if America launches its attacks from the sea, it will still require some sort of land presence – probably in Pakistan or Uzbekistan, which has said it will co-operate with President Bush. But Uzbekistan's border is far from both the Afghan capital, Kabul, and the city of Kandahár, near which Mr bin Laden's bases are said to be sited.

One Pakistani official told the newspaper: "You can run a limited war with the facilities that the US Navy has in the Arabian Sea. But they are no substitute to a solid support paraphernalia on the ground."

As a result, Pakistan would almost certainly have to house an operations headquarters as well as the Special Forces helicopters that would be used for the short hop across the border into Afghanistan.

There would also have to be a back-up team in Pakistan, possibly Army Rangers, should the Special Forces operation not go according to plan.