Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Pakistan Accused of 'Double Game'

Incredulous lawmakers are pressing Pakistan for answers to two simple questions: What did its army and intelligence agents know of Osama bin Laden's whereabouts and when did they know it?

The al-Qaida terrorist leader behind the Sept. 11 attacks lived and died in a massive, fortified compound built in 2005 and located on the outskirts of Abbottabad, some 60 miles from the capital of Islamabad. It stood just a half-mile from the Kakul Military Academy, Pakistan's equivalent of West Point, and close to various army regiments.

According to the U.S. account, the assault team came away with hard drives, DVDs, documents and more that might tip U.S. intelligence to al-Qaida's operational details and perhaps lead the manhunt to the presumed next-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri. The CIA is already going over the material.

White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan told NBC's TODAY on Tuesday that U.S. officials hoped to build on the killing of bin Laden. Brennan said the administration was determined "to pummel the rest of al-Qaida."

Obama, who approved the extraordinarily risky operation by Navy SEALs against bin Laden's Pakistan redoubt and witnessed its progression from the White House Situation Room, his face heavy with tension, reaped accolades from world leaders he'd kept in the dark as well as from political opponents at home.

Republican and Democratic leaders alike gave him a standing ovation at an evening White House meeting that was planned before the assault but became a celebration of it, and an occasion to step away from the fractious political climate. Obama plans to visit New York on Thursday.

Amid the high praise Monday for the successful U.S. military operation, congressional Republicans and Democrats questioned whether bin Laden was hiding in plain sight, with Pakistani military and intelligence operatives either totally unaware of his location or willfully ignoring his presence to protect him.

It was more than a rhetorical question as lawmakers raised the possibility of imposing conditions on the billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars that flow to Pakistan, largely economic aid to back an unsteady government.

"I think this tells us once again that, unfortunately, Pakistan at times is playing a double game," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a Senate Armed Services Committee member who indicated that Congress could put limits on funds for Pakistan. "It is very difficult for me to understand how this huge compound could be built in a city just an hour north of the capital of Pakistan, in a city that contained military installations, including the Pakistani military academy, and that it did not arouse tremendous suspicions."

Fragile relationship

Bin Laden's death and questions about Pakistan's eagerness in the fight against terrorism come as the tenuous U.S.-Pakistan relationship seems even more fragile. In recent weeks, CIA contractor Raymond Davis' killing of two Pakistanis and stepped-up drone attacks have further strained ties between the two countries.

Different factions within Pakistan itself complicate its role as a U.S. ally. What state officials and those in the military may have known about bin Laden could be quite different from what tribes and even families in the region knew or, more to the point, were willing to say about the Abbottabad compound and its occupants.

Pakistan on Tuesday denied any prior knowledge of the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden, but said it had been sharing information about the targeted compound with the CIA since 2009.

"Neither any base nor facility inside Pakistan was used by the U.S. forces, nor the Pakistan Army provided any operational or logistic assistance to these operations conducted by the U.S. forces,'' the foreign ministry said in a lengthy statement.
Early last month, CIA Director Leon Panetta met with Pakistan's intelligence chief, Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, a meeting Washington officials saw as make or break. The Obama administration said it was negotiating a possible reduction in U.S. intelligence operatives and special operations officers in Pakistan as they sought to ease Pakistani concerns about spy activity.
Prior to the raid on the compound, U.S. officials say, they didn't inform Pakistan of its plans. Unaware and unnerved Pakistanis scrambled their aircraft in the wake of the U.S. military intervention.

In its statement Tuesday, Pakistani authorities expressed "deep concerns'' that the operation was carried out without informing it in advance.

"This event of unauthorized unilateral action cannot be taken as a rule,'' the ministry said.

Pakistani also made a point of saying that its spy agency, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), agency had been sharing information about the compound with the CIA and other friendly intelligence agencies since 2009 and had continued to do so until mid-April.

Publicly, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has thanked Pakistan for its cooperation and said the country "has contributed greatly to our efforts to dismantle al-Qaida." She said that "in fact, cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound in which he was hiding."

Brennan told TODAY that "clearly there was some kind of support network" for bin Laden inside Pakistan.

However, he declined to blame the Pakistani government for that, calling Islamabad "a strong counterterrorism partner."
But he also said the Pakistani government was conducting its own investigation into how bin Laden dodged authorities for so long. Brennan said it is "unknown at this point" whether individuals inside the Pakistani government were helping bin Laden.

'In plain sight'

Condoleezza Rice, who was President George W. Bush's national security adviser on 9/11 and later served as secretary of state, told TODAY that she was "surprised to learn where he was found."

"Obviously there are some tough questions here," she said. "I'm quite certain that the administration along with the Pakistanis want to understand why Osama bin Laden could be so close to Islamabad, really in plain sight."

Based on the location of the compound and its proximity to army regiments, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said Pakistan's intelligence service and army has "got a lot of explaining to do."

Levin told reporters that "it's hard to imagine that the military or police did not have any ideas what was going on inside."
In an essay published Monday by The Washington Post, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari denied suggestions his country's security forces may have sheltered Osama bin Laden, and said their cooperation with the United States helped pinpoint bin Laden.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., who has traveled extensively to Pakistan and even worked as an intermediary to get Davis released, said candid conversations with the Pakistanis were necessary.
However, Kerry said it would be a mistake to forget "we've had people on the ground tracking this. There's some degree of assistance and cooperation of the Pakistanis."

Meanwhile, the administration weighed whether to release photos of bin Laden's corpse and video of his swift burial at sea. Officials were reluctant to inflame Islamic sentiment by showing graphic images of the body. But they were also eager to address the mythology already building in Pakistan and beyond that bin Laden was somehow still alive.

The only information about what occurred inside the compound has come from American officials, much of it provided under condition of anonymity.

They said SEALs dropped down ropes from helicopters, killed bin Laden aides and made their way to the main building. Obama and his national security team monitored the strike, watching and listening nervously and in near silence from the Situation Room as it all unfolded.

"The minutes passed like days," Brennan said.

U.S. officials said the information that ultimately led to bin Laden's capture originally came from detainees held in secret CIA prison sites in Eastern Europe. There, agency interrogators were told of an alias used by a courier whom bin Laden particularly trusted.

It took four long years to learn the man's real name, then years more before investigators got a big break in the case, these officials said. Sometime in mid-2010, the man was overheard using a phone by intelligence officials, who then were able to locate his residence — the specially constructed $1 million compound with walls as high as 18 feet topped with barbed wire.
U.S. counterterrorism officials considered bombing the place, an option that was discarded by the White House as too risky, particularly if it turned out bin Laden was not there.

National Journal said U.S. authorities used intelligence about bin Laden's compound to build a replica of it and use it for trial runs in early April.

Obama held a crucial meeting last week in which his advisers debated three options for dealing with top-secret information about the luxury compound.

At a two-hour meeting in the ultra-secure Situation Room, the team discussed the pros and cons of a raid on the compound by a small group of elite U.S. forces, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The two other alternatives were to conduct a strike or to wait for information that might lend greater clarity on whether the al-Qaida leader was indeed holed up there, the official said.

Obama's advisers were split at the Thursday meeting and the president took a night to think about the decision, the official said.

On Friday morning, just before leaving to visit tornado-hit Alabama, Obama revealed to a small group of aides that he had decided in favor of an immediate raid, the official said.

"It's a go," Obama told his advisers, as he ordered the operation that led to killing of the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.

Obama signed an order on Friday for the team of SEALs to chopper onto the compound under the cover of darkness.

Obama and his aides feared delaying action too long would increase the risk that word of the surveillance might leak out and their target might flee, the official said.

On Sunday afternoon, Obama convened a meeting at the White House where the mood was "tense" and "anxiety-ridden" as the group monitored the unfolding operation on a screen, the official said.

'We got him, guys'

Those present included Brennan, Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and White House National Security Adviser Tom Donilon.

"We got him, guys," Obama said in reaction to the news of bin Laden's death.

In addition to bin Laden, one of his sons, Khalid, was killed in the raid, Brennan said. Bin Laden's wife was shot in the calf but survived, a U.S. official said. Also killed were the courier, another al-Qaida facilitator and an unidentified woman, officials said.
As Americans rejoiced, they worried, too, that terrorists would be newly motivated to lash out. In their wounded rage, al-Qaida ideologues fed that concern. "By God, we will avenge the killing of the Sheik of Islam," one prominent al-Qaida commentator vowed. "Those who wish that jihad has ended or weakened, I tell them: Let us wait a little bit."

In that vein, U.S. officials warned that bin Laden's death was likely to encourage attacks from "homegrown violent extremists" even if al-Qaida is not prepared to respond in a coordinated fashion now.

Bin Laden's death came 15 years after he declared war on the United States. Al-Qaida was also blamed for the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa that killed 224 people and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 American sailors in Yemen, as well as countless other plots, some successful and some foiled.

The Associated Press, Reuters, NBC News and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.

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