WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Robert Gates submitted a request to the White House at least four months ago aimed at allowing U.S. Special Operations forces more access and greater ability to chase Al Qaeda in Pakistan's lawless tribal regions, but that request has so far gone unanswered, FOX News learned Monday.
That request came in the form of a so-called "execute order," which is an authorization to carry out military orders. One such order currently governs the chain-of-command and rules of engagement for chasing only the highest Al Qaeda members, namely, Usama bin Laden, sources tell FOX News. President Bush would have to approve the changes.
But following an exodus of Al Qaeda from Afghanistan into the Pakistan tribal regions after the 2001 U.S. invasion, and new reports that the Taliban has regrouped in Afghanistan, military planners want a greater ability to quickly capture not just bin Laden but lower-level Al Qaeda members who could lead them to bin Laden.
Pakistan military forces are in the midst of an assault on Islamic militants in and around Peshawar, a sign to observers that Pakistan is willing to step up pressure on the Taliban and Al Qaeda allies.
The New York Times first reported the delay of the order, citing it as an example of disagreements between the Pentagon, the State Department and the White House, and internal fights at the CIA that have hindered efforts to unseat Al Qaeda's hold in Pakistan.
One senior military commander told FOX News that reports of any disputes between Special Operations — Navy Seals, Delta Force and Army Rangers — and the CIA are overstated when it comes to Pakistan, and both see eye-to-eye on dealing with the terror group.
The senior military commander, who did not wish to be identified, said the CIA and Special Operations communities see eye-to-eye on what should be done in the tribal areas if there is actionable intelligence against Al Qaeda.
The Times reported that as Al Qaeda strengthened its operations in the borderless region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the CIA bickered, the administration balked, and Pakistan's military capitulated.
Citing named and unnamed officials, the paper said part of the blame for the lack of attention to the Pakistan tribal region has been due to the war in Iraq. For instance, the paper writes that when the CIA decided in 2006 to increase its presence in Pakistan, some rookie agents were being sent because most of the agency's Islamic-world specialists were focusing on Baghdad.
But interpersonal problems surfaced, the paper writes.
At one point, the CIA's clandestine operations chief at the time, Jose Rodriguez Jr., and the counterterrorism chief, Robert Grenier, had not spoken for months. Also, the CIA staff in Afghanistan bickered with staff in Pakistan over jurisdiction, and generally had differing views over whether Al Qaeda truly was gaining a stronghold in Pakistan.
The Times writes that political issues — domestic and international — got in the way, too. A plan to capture an Al Qaeda operative had run into trouble because of several questions, but later was signed off on by Donald Rumsfeld. But the plans quickly went dormant dormant as a result of Rumsfeld's resignation, triggered by the 2006 Democratic takeover of Congress.
And as other Bush administration figures with relationships with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf left the White House, the Times writes, there appeared to be less ability to push Musharraf.
In one-on-one conversations he had with Bush, Bush reportedly "never pounded his fist on the table and said, 'Pervez, you have to do this,' " one senior intelligence official said, the Times reported. However another source said Bush "pushes quite hard."
FOX News' Jennifer Griffin contributed to this report.