U.S. Urges Pakistan Toward New Attacks
Ally Balks at Pursuit of Al Qaeda, Officials Say
By Thomas E. Ricks and Kamran Khan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, May 12, 2002; Page A01
U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded that the major remaining concentrations of al Qaeda fighters are in western Pakistan, rather than in Afghanistan, but Pakistan has resisted U.S. pressure to launch large-scale attacks against them, officials in Washington and Pakistan said.
U.S. officials have pressed Pakistan to act against what they believe are groups of al Qaeda fighters concentrated in the Waziristan area of western Pakistan, near the Afghan border.
"We know where there is a large concentration of al Qaeda," one Pentagon official said last week, noting that there were several hundred in one border town, which he asked not be identified. But, he added, "Our guys haven't been getting the cooperation" requested from the Pakistani government.
The Pakistani government's reluctance to go after the pockets of terrorists on its territory is the first major difference to surface in the U.S.-Pakistani alliance against terrorism, which has been surprisingly strong since September.
If the intense U.S. pressure to mount an offensive along the Pakistani side of the border succeeds, it would mark a major widening of the eight-month-old U.S. counteroffensive against terrorism, in which overt combat has taken place only in Afghanistan. Pakistani officials also said it is possible the United States could decide to act unilaterally against the terrorist pockets.
Defense officials said the Pakistani military has been moving very slowly, despite U.S. offers to provide intelligence, helicopters, Special Operations troops or even conventional military units. For the last two weeks, one senior official said, "We've been after them [the Pakistanis] to attack, and we haven't made much progress."
Another added: "We are trying to encourage, wheedle, coerce, urge the Pakistanis to move more aggressively" against al Qaeda fighters. "We've had some success, but movement is slow."
Pakistani officials responded that, with or without U.S. aid, they are reluctant for several reasons to launch the attacks. They said they fear an internal political backlash, both in the unruly border area and from Islamic extremists across the nation. They said their military already is strained by the standoff with India.
In addition, they said they lack confidence in U.S. intelligence reports about the supposed buildup of al Qaeda forces on their territory. "There can't be any such large-scale concentrations in any area of Pakistan," Pakistani Brig. Javed Iqbal Cheema, director of the Interior Ministry's crisis management cell, said Friday. "It isn't possible."
Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, met with his top military commanders last week in Rawalpindi to consider how to deal with the U.S. push to begin wide-ranging military operations in the semi-autonomous border area. The meeting has been reported in the Pakistani press, but not its subject or conclusions.
But speaking privately, Pakistani officials disclosed the military leaders concluded that no operation would be launched in the volatile border region -- known as the Tribal Areas -- without more specific intelligence that the Pakistani government deemed credible. Even then, they decided, U.S. military involvement in the area should be kept to a minimum.
A small number of U.S. Special Forces are already operating along the Pakistani side of the border, and covert U.S. patrols have crossed into Pakistan from Afghanistan. On Friday night, a rocket was fired at a building in North Waziristan in which U.S. personnel are believed to be staying. It was the second rocket attack this month against U.S. forces in the area. No casualties were reported in either assault.
The commanders' meeting also concluded that the United States should be told that until tensions relax between Pakistan and India -- about 80 percent of Pakistan's troops are deployed on its eastern border, with India -- the Pakistani military could not mount large-scale operations along its western border, with Afghanistan.
"There was almost a consensus during this meeting that extreme care be taken before launching any security operation in the tribal areas, and in the event of any such action, the involvement of foreign personnel be kept at the minimum level," said an official familiar with the conference proceedings.
© 2002 The Washington Post Company