Musharraf: We are after al Qaeda
Searching area government hasn't entered 'for over a century'
CAMP DAVID, Maryland (CNN) -- Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf Tuesday said al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden may be "shifting sides" along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, and Pakistani authorities have launched a massive hunt in remote border tribal areas.
"If at all any al Qaeda operative is hiding in this region, we are after them," Musharraf said at a joint news conference with President Bush at Camp David.
"Now, whether Osama bin Laden is here or across the border, your guess, sir, will be as good as mine," he told a reporter. "So, I wouldn't like to venture into a guess. But the possibility of his maybe shifting sides on the border is very much there."
Musharraf said the region being searched is the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), a mountainous territory covering about 10,500 square miles in northwest Pakistan along the Afghan border.
Musharraf said the government had not entered the region "for over a century."
"This is the first time that the Pakistan army and our civil armed forces have entered this region, and we are in the process of opening out this region," Musharraf said.
"There is no doubt in my mind that the military, with every passage of time, will be able to locate any al Qaeda members hiding in this area."
A senior Bush administration official said a trilateral commission involving Pakistan, the United States and the new Afghan government has been formed to "look at what's going on in the border area and try to find a way to make it work better."
Pakistan has apprehended more than 500 suspected al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists, including al Qaeda operations chief Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the man believed to be the key planner of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.
"We abhor terrorism in all its forms and manifestations," Musharraf said. "And Pakistan is moving against terrorism in its own national interest."
Bush applauded Musharraf for his efforts, saying Pakistan has been "essential in our campaign against the Taliban."
"Thanks to President Musharraf's leadership on the al Qaeda front, we dismantled the chief operators of al Qaeda," Bush said. "Slowly but surely we're dismantling the networks. And we'll continue on the hunt. It doesn't matter how long it takes."
Last weekend U.S. forces in Afghanistan began preparations to deploy troops along the country's southern border with Pakistan in an effort to prevent Taliban and al Qaeda remnants from crossing into the country and carrying out attacks.
U.S. and Afghan officials have blamed a spate of recent attacks on "terrorists" crossing from Pakistan where senior members of the Taliban are thought to have gone into hiding. (Full story)