Inside the Ring

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INTELLIGENCE FIGHT

Obama administration intelligence, military, defense and diplomatic officials are engaged in a vigorous debate over policy toward Pakistan. The battle surfaced publicly this week after a senior Pentagon official criticized Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for remarks to Congress linking Pakistan’s government to terrorist attacks.

Adm. Mullen told the Senate Armed Services Committee Sept. 22 that Pakistan’s ISI intelligence service helped the al Qaeda-affiliated Pakistani terrorist group, the Haqqani Network, plan a truck-bomb attack Sept. 10 near Kabul, Afghanistan, and the assault on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

“With ISI support, Haqqani operatives planned and conducted that truck-bomb attack, as well as the assault on our embassy,” he said.

The remarks drew an angry reaction from Pakistan’s government, which denied the links.

Then, this week a senior Pentagon official told The Washington Post that Adm. Mullen “overstated” ties between ISI and the Haqqani Network, in an apparent effort by the official to patch over growing strains in U.S.-Pakistani military relations. The official insisted there was little evidence of Pakistan control of the terrorists and also criticized Adm. Mullen for what the official said was needlessly inflaming Pakistani government officials.

A defense official told Inside the Ring that the Pentagon official’s comments surprised many administration officials because they revealed the basis for Adm. Mullen’s remarks. The statement that strong evidence exists on ISI control and direction of the Haqqani Network is based on highly classified intelligence.

“The chairman stands by his testimony,” said his spokesman, Navy Capt. John Kirby.

Pentagon spokesman George Little added: “Whoever spoke on background and under the cloak of anonymity doesn’t represent the consensus view of this government, which is that the Haqqanis have a sanctuary in Pakistan, where they’re able to plan and direct attacks against American, Afghan and coalition forces.”

Congress, too, has entered the debate. House and Senate intelligence committees recently requested top-secret intelligence reports that were the basis for Adm. Mullen’s testimony, as well as additional material on the ISI-Haqqani links.

The top-secret intelligence is said to show clear operational ties between Afghan insurgents, Haqqani Network operatives and ISI officers, based on communications traced to cellphones recovered from insurgents after the Kabul attack.

Defense officials said the comments critical of Adm. Mullen reflect the views of some Pentagon intelligence officials who favor a major shift in U.S. policy toward Pakistan that would involve sharply cutting back drone strikes against insurgents as a way to improve relations with Islamabad.

Other officials in the intelligence community and State Department who favor this new approach have argued that the drone war can be scaled back because al Qaeda has been damaged severely by the strikes and military raids over the past several years. They also claim that keeping the current pace is no longer needed and is actually counterproductive.

Adm. Mullen and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, however, favor keeping up the current high pace of drone attacks and special-operations direct action, which have been the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s anti-terrorism strategy.

Another defense official acknowledged that there is a debate under way on U.S. military activities in Pakistan, but declined to provide further details.

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About the Author
Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.

He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.

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