U.S. Officials: Pakistani Agents Helped Plan Kabul Bombing
Friday, August 1, 2008
U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that elements of Pakistan's military intelligence service provided logistical support to militants who staged last month's deadly car bombing at the Indian Embassy in Afghanistan's capital, U.S. officials familiar with the evidence said yesterday.
The finding, based partly on communication intercepts, has dramatically heightened U.S. concerns about long-standing ties between Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI, and Taliban-allied groups that are battling U.S. forces in Afghanistan, according to two U.S. government officials briefed on the matter.
The July 7 bombing at the Kabul embassy has been linked to fighters loyal to Jalaluddin Haqqani, an ethnic Pashtun militant who has led pro-Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan and has been associated with numerous suicide bombings in the region. More than 40 people were killed in one of the deadliest attacks on Afghan civilians since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.
"There continues to be evidence of Taliban and Haqqani network involvement in the Indian Embassy bombing as well as the attempted assassination of [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai," said a senior U.S. official briefed on the reports. He said there was "significant" evidence suggesting that individual ISI members provided logistical support to the embassy bombers. He declined to elaborate further.
CIA officials raised the issue of possible ISI support for the embassy bombers during a meeting last month between the newly elected Pakistani government and a delegation led by Stephen Kappes, the agency's director of clandestine operations, two officials said. The conclusion by U.S. intelligence and the visit were first reported by the New York Times.
One official involved with U.S. counterterrorism efforts stressed that the ISI has generally worked closely with U.S. intelligence in battling al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in the tribal region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. But he acknowledged that the Pakistani intelligence service is "not monolithic."
The intelligence community is divided about the extent of Taliban sympathies within the Pakistani service, a second senior official said. "You will find folks who will say there is significant penetration of the ISI by terrorist elements and that's a serious concern," the official said. "But others are saying that certainly, there's penetration, but we don't think it's top to bottom."
Pakistani officials have repeatedly denied the allegation of ISI support for the Taliban, though Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar, who accompanied Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani in a visit to Washington this week, acknowledged that his U.S. counterparts had aired serious concerns. Following their meetings this week, Gillani and President Bush sought to ease bilateral tensions over the conduct of the campaign against terrorism. Their talks focused on efforts to clamp down on al-Qaeda and Taliban extremists in Pakistan's northwest tribal areas.
Gillani secured a pledge from Bush to respect Pakistani sovereignty in exchange for promises from Islamabad to crack down on the militants. "This is our own war," Gillani said. "This is a war which is against Pakistan."
Pakistan, which has received more than $10 billion in U.S. aid since 2001, has resisted suggestions that troops from the United States or other countries be allowed into the region.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen, when asked yesterday whether the ISI and the military were aligned with the Pakistani government, said it was a question "the government of Pakistan ought to speak to."
Mullen, who recently traveled to Pakistan, said the country's leaders made clear during talks that they recognized the tribal areas pose "a serious internal threat to Pakistan, and it's growing," and that they are "committed to taking steps to . . . address it."
U.S. concerns about Taliban support within the ISI's ranks date back nearly a decade. Robert Baer, a former CIA case officer with experience in the region, noted that the ISI was an early backer of the Taliban during the 1980s, at a time when they were allied in the fight against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Some ISI officers forged personal ties with Taliban commanders that persist today, he said.
Staff writers Ann Scott Tyson and Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.