LONDON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama would approve a new incursion into Pakistan if the United States found another leading militant there, he said in a BBC interview broadcast on Sunday.
U.S. Navy SEALs killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the September 11 attacks on U.S. cities in 2001, in a raid on his fortified compound in Pakistan on May 2, ending a manhunt for the world’s most-wanted militant.
Asked if Obama would do the same again if the United States discovered another “high-value target” in Pakistan or another country, such as a senior al Qaeda member or Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar, he said he would “take the shot.”
“We are very respectful of the sovereignty of Pakistan. But we cannot allow someone who is actively planning to kill our people or our allies’ people, we can’t allow those kind of active plans to come to fruition without us taking some action,” Obama told the BBC.
“I had made no secret. I had said this when I was running for the presidency, that if I had a clear shot at bin Laden, that we’d take it.”
A spokesman for Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari, Farhatullah Babar, said in response to Obama’s remarks: “We need to move away from unilateral actions and should focus on cooperation in countering terrorism.” He declined to comment further.
Obama’s comments echoed those of U.S. Senator John Kerry, a Democrat close to his administration and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Asked this month if the United States would conduct a similar raid in Pakistan to kill Omar if they knew his whereabouts, he said Washington would consider all its options.
U.S. officials have long maintained Omar fled to Pakistan after the Taliban government was overthrown in late 2001 by U.S.-backed Afghan forces and is still in hiding there. Islamabad has denied reports he is in Pakistan.
Obama arrives in Britain on Tuesday for a three-day state visit -- the first state visit by a U.S. president since 2003.
He will hold talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron and address the parliament to hail the two countries’ special relationship and stress the importance of transatlantic ties.
Reporting by Olesya Dmitracova; additional reporting by Kamran Haider in Islamabad