U.S. Urges Pakistan Toward New Attacks
A Pakistani security official also discounted the U.S. conclusion that several hundred al Qaeda fighters have concentrated in two or three areas near the border. The U.S. intelligence, he said, is "very general and lacks specifics."
He added that recent small-scale raids launched jointly by the United States and Pakistan in the Tribal Areas already have created a "revolt-like situation" there.
"The territory is hostile to the U.S. forces and sympathetic to Taliban and Arabs," a Pakistani military official agreed. He indicated that the United States should reconsider before pushing Pakistan "to launch a military assault against thousands of well-armed, religiously motivated people."
The frustration U.S. officials have expressed about Pakistan is especially striking because it comes after eight months in which the United States -- especially its military -- has been consistently pleased with the breadth and depth of Pakistani cooperation.
Even though the Pakistani government, and especially its intelligence service, had nurtured Afghanistan's Taliban movement, Pakistan agreed in September to support the U.S. attack on the Taliban. It permitted U.S. warplanes to fly over its territory and even allowed the Americans to base troops and aircraft at at least four locations on its territory. It also helped capture Taliban and al Qaeda fighters: Close to half the detainees held at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were originally in Pakistani custody.
The first hint of a change in the extent of Pakistan's cooperation came after its military failed to catch scores of al Qaeda and Taliban fighters fleeing the Shahikot battle in March. The United States and its allies then staged the biggest ground attack of the war, against a large, heavily armed and dug-in opponent.
That failure was in sharp contrast to the Tora Bora fight in December, when swift action by the Pakistani army netted hundreds of suspected al Qaeda fighters as they crossed into Pakistan.
Since Shahikot, results of the U.S.-led offensive on the Afghan side of the border have been sparse. Earlier this month, the U.S. military prepared to launch a major operation in southeastern Afghanistan. Preliminary movements by British and Canadian forces were intended to force enemy concentrations to fight or to move.
The Pakistani military was supposed to complement the attack by pushing al Qaeda members back across the border into Afghanistan. Troops from the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne went on alert to reinforce any allied unit that became engaged in combat.
To the U.S. commanders' surprise, the sweeps by British and Canadian forces ran into almost no opposition. The Americans have concluded that most of the al Qaeda opposition has relocated in small villages along the Pakistani side of the border.
"Given the choice of facing U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, or nothing in the ungovernable provinces, where would you go?" asked one U.S. official involved in the war.
Despite its resistance, the Pakistani government has indicated it understands that the United States ultimately may choose to bomb the pockets of enemy fighters unilaterally, especially if solid intelligence points toward the location of Osama bin Laden or other al Qaeda leaders.
"We've made it very clear" to tribal leaders that providing sanctuary to terrorists and their allies "would bring great harm to them," Moeenuddin Haider, Pakistan's interior minister, told Washington Post reporters and editors on Friday -- although he said he was not aware either of large groups of al Qaeda in Pakistan or of U.S. pressure to do more against them. He also said he does not believe bin Laden is in Pakistan.
Tribal leaders in Waziristan said they have been warned in far harsher terms. One said that last week, after local youths posted armed bands outside schools and mosques to resist searches by U.S. forces, Pakistani military intelligence officials told them that giving refuge to al Qaeda invited "carpet bombing of the area by the U.S. B-52 bombers."
Special correspondent Khan reported from Karachi, Pakistan.
© 2002 The Washington Post Company