Washington: In a tough message to Pakistan, leading Democrat Presidential hopefuls on Sunday supported pursuing al Qaeda militants in the troubled country even without Islamabad's permission if the US had "actionable intelligence".
"I absolutely do stand by it," Senator Barack Obama said during a debate when asked about his stated policy of going after terrorists inside Pakistan with or without the permission of the government there.
"Back in August, I said we should work with the Pakistani government, first of all to encourage democracy in Pakistan, and secondly, that we have to press them to do more to take on al Qaeda in their territory," the Illinois Democrat, who now threatens to strike at Senator Hillary Rodham Hillary in New Hampshire after a stunning performance in Iowa, said.
"What I said was, if they could not or would not do so, and we had actionable intelligence, then I would strike."
Former Senator John Edwards, who came second in Iowa and is looking well placed in New Hampshire, said that if as President he knew where terror mastermind Osama bin Laden was, "I would go get him, period".
However, Hillary did strike a word of caution saying any actionable intelligence that would lead to a strike inside Pakistan's territory must be given the "most careful consideration" and pointed to military tension between India and Pakistan.
"When the missiles have been launched -- the Pakistani government has to know they're on the way. Because one of the problems is the inherent paranoia about India, so that we've got to have a plan to try to make sure we don't ignite some kind of reaction," the New York Democrat said.
Hillary said the government led by her husband Bill Clinton had carried out such attacks but without success.
"We did take action similar to what has been described about 10 years ago, based on what was thought to be actionable intelligence, sending in missiles to try to target bin Laden and his top leadership who were thought to be at a certain meeting place. They were not taken out at the time," Hillary said in a Democratic debate in New Hampshire ahead of the critical primary in that state on Tuesday.
"So we have to be very conscious of all the consequences," she warned.
Hillary noted that Laden had regrouped because the US did not put in the troops and make the commitment to aggressively going after him inside Afghanistan.
"Therefore, we need more NATO troops and a faster effort to train the Afghan army so that we do have the personnel and the technology to be able to be on the spot at the time to try to move as quickly as possible," Hillary said.
She said while the nuclear assets were considered secure, "there isn't any guarantee especially given the political turmoil going on inside Pakistan".
Hillary also argued that the US will have to work with Musharraf as it would be "very difficult for the United States to be able to control what comes next".
"I would try to get Musharraf to share the security responsibility of the nuclear weapons with a delegation from the United States and, perhaps, Great Britain," she added.