Washington, Oct 27 : Following furious complaints from the Pakistan government for further ground raids into its tribal areas, the White House has reportedly begun relying on an intensifying campaign of air-strikes by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) against militants in the Pakistani mountains.
The decision followed after Pakistani officials made clear in public that they regard the Predator attacks as "a less objectionable violation of Pakistani sovereignty".
Quoting American and Pakistani officials, the New York Times reported that attacks by remotely piloted Predator aircraft had increased sharply in frequency and scope during the past three months.
Since the beginning of August till yesterday, there had been at least 18 Predator strikes, some deep inside Pakistan's tribal areas, compared with five strikes during the first seven months of 2008.
Meanwhile, officials said that the US would be unable to weaken Al Qaeda's grip in the tribal areas permanently while relying on air-strikes alone.
The decision to focus on an intensified Predator campaign using 'Hellfire' missiles appears to reflect dwindling options on the part of the White House for striking a blow against Al Qaeda in the Bush administration's waning days.
After months of debate within the administration and mounting frustration over Pakistan's failure to carry out more aggressive counterterrorism operations, President Bush finally gave his approval in July for ground missions inside Pakistan.
American officials acknowledge that following the Sept. 3 ground raid they were surprised by the intensity of the Pakistani response, which included an unannounced visit to Washington, three weeks after the incursion, by the country's national security adviser Mahmud Ali Durrani. He registered his anger in person with top White House officials, including US security adviser Stephen J. Hadley.
A senior administration official said Sunday that no tacit agreement had been reached to allow increased Predator strikes in exchange for a backing off from additional American ground raids, an option the officials said remained on the table.
"There's always a balance between respecting full Pakistani sovereignty, even in places where they're not capable of exercising that sovereignty, and the need for our force protection," the paper quoted an administration official as saying.