Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said Wednesday that he would send U.S. troops into Pakistan to hunt down terrorists even without local permission if warranted - an attempt to show strength when his chief rival has described his foreign policy skills as naive.
The Illinois senator warned Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf that he must do more to shut down terrorist operations in his country and evict foreign fighters under an Obama presidency, or Pakistan will risk a U.S. troop invasion and losing hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid.
"Let me make this clear," Obama said in a speech prepared for delivery at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. "There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al-Qaida leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will."
The excerpts were provided by the Obama campaign in advance of the speech.
Obama's speech comes the week after his rivalry with New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton erupted into a public fight over their diplomatic intentions.
Obama said he would be willing to meet leaders of rogue states like Cuba, North Korea and Iran without conditions, an idea that Clinton criticized as irresponsible and naive. Obama responded by using the same words to describe Clinton's vote to authorize the Iraq war and called her "Bush-Cheney lite."
Thousands of Taliban fighters are based in Pakistan's vast and jagged mountains, where they can pass into Afghanistan, train for suicide operations and find refuge from local tribesmen. Intelligence experts warn that al-Qaida could be rebuilding here to mount another attack on the United States.
Musharraf has been a key ally of Washington in fighting terrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, but has faced accusations from some quarters in Pakistan of being too closely tied to America.
The Bush administration has supported Musharraf and stressed the need to cooperate with Pakistan, but lately administration officials have suggested the possibility of military strikes to deal with al-Qaida and its leader, Osama bin Laden.
Analysts say an invasion could risk destabilizing Pakistan, breeding more militancy and undermining Musharraf. The Pakistani Foreign Office, protective of its national sovereignty, has warned that U.S. military action would violate international law and be deeply resented.
A military invasion could be risky, given Pakistan's hostile terrain and the suspicion of its warrior-minded tribesmen against uninvited outsiders.
Congress passed legislation Friday that would tie aid from the United States to Islamabad's efforts to stop al-Qaida and the Taliban from operating in its territory. President Bush has yet to sign it.
Obama's speech was a condemnation of President George W. Bush's leadership in the war on terror. He said the focus on Iraq has left Americans in more danger than before Sept. 11, and that Bush has misrepresented the enemy as Iraqis who are fighting a civil war instead of the terrorists responsible for the attacks six years ago.
"He confuses our mission," Obama said, then he spread responsibility to lawmakers like Clinton who voted for the invasion. "By refusing to end the war in Iraq, President Bush is giving the terrorists what they really want, and what the Congress voted to give them in 2002: a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences."