WASHINGTON - US drone attacks and Pakistans ongoing military offensive in Swat region have unsettled Al-Qaeda and undermined its relative invulnerability in its mountain sanctuaries, creating new opportunities to target the extremists, The Washington Post reported Monday, quoting US military and intelligence officials. Citing US officials, the newspaper said the dual disruption has sparked a new sense of possibility amid a generally pessimistic outlook for the conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Although al-Qaeda remains a serious, potent threat, a US counterterrorism official said, theyve suffered some serious losses and seem to be feeling a heightened sense of anxiety - and thats not a bad thing at all. The offensive in Swat against its Taliban allies also poses a dilemma for Al-Qaeda, a senior military official was quoted as saying. Theyre asking themselves, 'Are we going to contest Taliban losses, he said, predicting that Al-Qaeda will have to make a move and undertake more open communication on cellphones and computers, even if only to gather information on the situation in the region. Then they become more visible, he said. Chances to intercept substantive Al-Qaeda communications or to take advantage of the movement of individuals are always fleeting, according to several officials of both governments. Since last fall, the report claimed the Predator drone attacks have eliminated about half of 20 US-designated high-value Al-Qaeda and other extremist targets along Pakistans border with Afghanistan, US and Pakistani officials said. But the attacks have also killed civilians, stoking anti-American attitudes in Pakistan that inhibit cooperation between Islamabad and Washington. The need to establish a trusting, mutually beneficial US-Pakistan partnership is pressing, yet the ability to do so is severely challenged by current events, Gen David Petraeus, head of US Central Command, wrote in a secret assessment on May 27. Petraeus statement was declassified late last week so it could become part of the Obama Administrations federal court appeal to block the release of detainee photographs showing abuse. The Administration argues that the images would promote attacks against the United States worldwide. Anti-US sentiment has already been increasing in Pakistan . . . especially in regard to cross-border and reported drone strikes, which Pakistanis perceive to cause unacceptable civilian casualties, Petraeus wrote. Nearly two-thirds of Pakistanis oppose counterterrorism cooperation with the US, he said, and 35pc say they do not support US strikes into Pakistan, even if they are coordinated with the GOP [government of Pakistan] and the Pakistan Military ahead of time. The CIA considers the Predator the most effective tool available in a conflict in which the US military is barred from conducting offensive operations on land or in the air. Were not at the point yet where theres a sense that theres anything that could replace that, the second military official said of the drone attacks. Our Monitoring Desk adds: Although US Special Operations teams are on continuous alert on the Afghan side of the border, the Obama Administration has not authorised any ground operations in Pakistan, and the military is divided over their advisability. We ask all the time, said a military official who favours such raids. They say, 'Now is not a good time. The US Special Operations ground teams do, however, have what the American officials called standing orders for an attack against the big three extremists thought to be in Pakistan - Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar - if conclusive intelligence became available and the timing was right. Obama remains very concerned . . . and is pressing internally to make sure we are doing all we can, in concert with our Pakistani friends, to address this in an aggressive way, according to a senior White House aide. Judging by reports from the region through late April, the Obama Administration authorised about four or five Predator attacks a month, maintaining a pace set by the Bush administration in August. The CIA, which does not publicly acknowledge the attacks, operates the aircraft, chooses the targets - ideally with the cooperation of Pakistani intelligence on the ground - and has White House authority to fire the missiles without prior consultation outside the intelligence agency. A senior Pakistani official said the rate has not diminished in recent weeks, although you dont hear so much about it because the strike areas have been more isolated. There are better targets and better intelligence on the ground, the Pakistani official said. Its less of a crapshoot. A second US military official agreed, saying, Were not getting civilians, and not getting outrage beyond the usual stuff. According to the Paper, beyond unease over public perceptions, a hesitant and often mistrustful relationship between the US and Pakistani military and intelligence services continues to limit collaboration. Intelligence relations remain tense, officials from both governments said. Although the military cooperation has improved, the Pakistan army still believes [the Americans] have ulterior motives, the Pakistani official said, including undermining Pakistans nuclear weapons program. Although the US military flies Predators - separate from those directed by the CIA - along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, it is prohibited from overflying Pakistani territory. Thus far, the US has turned down Pakistani requests for its own Predators. This spring, US forces offered a compromise: Pakistan could direct US military Predators over areas of its choice, transmitting images directly into its own intelligence channels, according to officials from both governments. After Pakistan refused to allow a downlink to be established on its side of the border, the ground equipment was set up at a joint cooperation centre on the Afghanistan side. Pakistani officials were taken to Turkey to observe a similar program. It was somewhere between March 10 or 15 that we flew the first 'proof of concept mission for the Pakistanis and said, 'Heres how the system would work. Heres how we can push data through your own networks so you would have capability available to you, said a US military official familiar with the programme. Although the Predators were armed, US and Pakistani officials said, no offensive operations beyond intelligence-gathering were contemplated or authorized. Twelve missions were flown over the tribal regions near the border. But in mid-April, the Pakistanis abandoned the project, the official familiar with the programme said. They just did not ask for additional flight information. Any time we have asked them if they need anything, theyve come back and said, 'No, thank you. The Pakistani official said that his government expected the programme to continue eventually but that its attention was now focused farther east, on the ongoing Swat offensive. US overflights there were not wanted, he said. We dont want the American UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] going so deep into Pakistani territory, he said.