- The Washington Times - Friday, June 12, 2009

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The CIA believes Osama bin Laden is still in Pakistan, and the spy agency is hoping to close in on him as that country’s military cracks down on the northwestern tribal area where he is thought to be hiding.

CIA Director Leon E. Panetta told reporters after a speech on Capitol Hill on Thursday that finding bin Laden remains one of the CIA’s top priorities.

“I guess one of our hopes is that as Pakistani military moves in, combined with our operations, we may have a better chance to get at him,” Mr. Panetta said.

The CIA has increased the number of officers and has recruited agents, or locals who provide information, in Pakistan, Mr. Panetta said.

“We have a number of people who are on the ground in Pakistan who are helping us provide targets and who are helping us provide the information that we really need to go after al Qaeda,” he said.

Mr. Panetta also hinted that the Obama administration is crafting a new approach to confront North Korea’s and Iran’s nuclear programs.

“The approach that we take to deal with North Korean nuclear development will send a very important signal to Iran in how we deal with them,” Mr. Panetta said after a speech to the National Italian American Foundation. He declined to provide details.

Mr. Panetta said the Pakistani offensive in the Swat Valley is making very good progress compared to Pakistan’s past efforts to crack down on extremists. The Pakistan military says it has killed more than 1,300 militants during the offensive and reclaimed most of the region.

Past offensives against Islamist militants often faltered, with the government choosing to strike peace agreements with the extremists. A peace deal in Swat collapsed in April after the Taliban advanced from there into nearby Buner, just 60 miles from the capital, Islamabad.

Mr. Panetta said the CIA is mindful that as it makes progress in Pakistan, al Qaeda leaders could transfer their sights to safe havens elsewhere, such as Yemen and Somalia, which have large, ungoverned territories.

Meanwhile, a Web site linked to al Qaeda cited a leader of the group in Afghanistan as saying that militants are short of food, weapons and other supplies needed to fight foreign forces there, Reuters news agency reported from Istanbul.

“In Afghanistan, we have a severe supply deficit. The main reason for the weakness in operations is insufficient supplies. Many mujahedeen sit and wait and cannot fight for lack of supplies,” Mustafa Abu al-Yazid said on a Web site used by top al Qaeda leaders and other militants to post statements.

“If a mujahid (holy fighter) does not have the money to get weapons, food, drink and the materials for jihad, he cannot fight jihad,” al-Yazid said. “Fear Allah and be ambitious in waging jihad through [donating] goods.”

Al-Yazid called on Turks to provide money and supplies for al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan, appealing to their common Muslim identity, and called for Turks to pray for the militants.

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