The United States has an agreement with President Pervez Musharraf to launch direct attacks targeting elusive al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistani territory without prior permission from Islamabad, a media report said on Wednesday.
CIA-operated Predator drones may strike Laden's hide-out without taking permission beforehand from Islamabad if the US locates him in Pakistan's rugged tribal areas, a source close to the arrangement told the 'The Washington Times'.
The right to launch attacks to US was granted by Musharraf when the Pakistan had joined the war against terrorism, the source said.
The US has options for sending special operations teams into Pakistan if Laden's exact location is determined, but military officials said it would be the Predator, not boots on the ground, that would be dispatched to kill the al Qaeda leader.
This is because a Predator could be airborne - or redirected in flight - in a matter of minutes. In contrast, special operations forces in Afghanistan would have to be assembled, briefed on the mission and then dispatched by helicopter - a time-consuming and risky process.
By not requesting Pakistan's approval first, the US would avoid the risk of breaching operational security. Washington still harbours suspicions about Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence agency (ISI), which helped establish pro-al Qaeda Taliban rule in Afghanistan,the daily said.
Nadeem Kiani, Pakistani Embassy spokesperson in Washington, declined to comment on the purported Laden deal but said Pakistan stands ready to move against the al Qaeda leader if he is inside the country.
Pakistan allowed the CIA to secretly launch missile- equipped Predators from its soil into Afghanistan during the war to oust the Taliban, the leading US daily said.
It has continued to let the agency fly the unmanned surveillance planes over Pakistan. But earlier this year, Musharraf rejected a Bush administration request to allow more CIA personnel into his country.
Washington must coordinate planned strikes on militants in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Bin Laden as a target is an exception to that rule, said the paper.
"What I can tell you is that the president has a strong, overarching commitment to make sure that we track down and bring to justice Osama bin Laden and other top members of al Qaeda," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino was quoted as saying by the daily.