CIA chief to discuss joint intel team in Pakistan

June 11, 2011 - 7:30 AM
Defense Panetta

Defense Secretary nominee, CIA Director Leon Panetta, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, June 9, 2011, before the Senate Armed Service Committee hearing on his nomination. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta))

ISLAMABAD (AP) — CIA Director Leon Panetta and senior Pakistani officials planned to focus on the size and scope of U.S. intelligence activities in Pakistan during a second day of talks Saturday, as both countries work to repair ties fractured by the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden, a Pakistani official said.

The operation that killed bin Laden plunged an already strained relationship between the CIA and Pakistan's main intelligence agency, the ISI, to new lows and threatened cooperation that is key to the U.S. fight against al-Qaida and Taliban militants battling foreign troops in Afghanistan.

The U.S. also needs Pakistan's help to help promote and guide negotiations with the Taliban that can help end the decade-long Afghan war. Pakistan and Afghanistan inaugurated a joint peace commission Saturday during a visit by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

In an attempt to rebuild their relationship, Washington and Islamabad have agreed to form a joint intelligence team to track down militant targets inside Pakistan, drawing in part from the trove of records taken from bin Laden's personal office during the raid.

Panetta and Pakistani officials planned to discuss what U.S. intelligence officers will be permitted to do, and how many will be allowed into the country, as part of the team, said a Pakistani official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

But new suspicions have marred this attempt at renewed cooperation.

As an act of faith to restore relations with the Pakistanis, U.S. intelligence shared the suspected location of explosive material held by the al-Qaida-linked Haqqani network at two compounds in the Pakistani tribal areas, according to a Pakistani and a U.S. official.

The U.S. official said that after the intelligence was shared, the explosive material was moved. The Pakistani official told The Associated Press that they checked out the locations, but nothing was there, and that they intend to investigate to dispel U.S. suspicions that the Pakistani intelligence service had tipped off the militants.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence operations.

Panetta's visit is his first to Pakistan since the covert U.S. Navy SEAL raid that killed bin Laden in a Pakistani army town not far from the capital on May 2. On Friday, Panetta dined with army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and the head of the country's main spy agency, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha.

The bin Laden operation triggered an angry backlash from the Pakistani military, which is upset that the U.S. didn't inform it beforehand. Pakistan has sent home most of the U.S. Army trainers in the country, and the military said Thursday that billions of dollars in American aid meant to help it combat militants should instead be used to bolster Pakistan's economy.

In Washington, there has been suspicion that elements within the Pakistani security establishment were sheltering bin Laden, even though no evidence has emerged that senior officials were involved.

But both countries have a strong interest in keeping their troubled relationship from totally falling apart.

Panetta's ties with Pakistan will be key in his new role as U.S. defense secretary, presuming he is speedily confirmed by Congress.

The U.S. wants the proposed joint intelligence team under discussion Saturday to pursue a list of five high-value targets it handed to the Pakistani leadership during another high-level visit to Pakistan by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and chairman of the joint chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen, along with CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell, who met Pasha separately.

The target list included al-Qaida's military operations chief in Pakistan, Ilyas Kashmiri, who was reportedly killed by a drone strike in the Pakistani tribal areas last Friday. But both sides say that hit was not the direct result of the intelligence partnership nor data from the material seized from the bin Laden compound.

Panetta's visit to Islamabad coincided with a two-day trip by Karzai, the Afghan president, who pressed Pakistan for support in facilitating negotiations with Taliban militants with whom the Pakistani government has historical ties.

There is a significant level of distrust between the two countries, but Pakistan promised to help as Afghanistan sees fit.

"We both want stability in Afghanistan and in Pakistan," said Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in a press conference held with Karzai following the first meeting of the joint peace commission. "Our only aim is to support the peace process, which is Afghan-led."

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Associated Press Intelligence Writer Kimberly Dozier in Washington contributed to this report.