- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Elements of Pakistan’s military and intelligence service assisted Osama bin Laden before he was killed during the recent U.S. raid on his Abbottobad hideout, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said on Tuesday.

“I believe that there are elements of both the military and intelligence service who in some way, both prior and maybe even current, provided some level of assistance to Osama bin Laden,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, who recently returned from a visit to Pakistan.

Senior Obama administration officials have said they are investigating bin Laden’s support network in Pakistan and whether there was official government support. U.S. officials also have said there were no signs that senior Pakistani government officials knew about bin Laden’s compound.

The comments go beyond what Mr. Rogers said previously. Last month he told CNN that Pakistani military element may have supported bin Laden.

Mr. Rogers, who met in Pakistan with Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the head of ISI, and Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the chief of Pakistan’s military, said he knew of no evidence that implicated the political and military leadership of Pakistan in harboring the al Qaeda leader at a compound located within yards of a prestigious Pakistani military academy.

He said however that recent news reports indicating insurgents were tipped off in advance to a military raid on a site used for building roadside bombs suggested Pakistan’s military and ISI are were compromised.

“I do believe, I think the recent news report on the compounds highlights, there is some level of sympathizers within the ISI, within the local police departments, within the way they would handle that piece of information there are certainly sympathizers and I think you can extrapolate that on a proactive side to the fact that Osama bin Laden was in Abbottobad for nearly five years.”

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told Associated Press that the United States was disappointed and suspicious about a tipoff, but does not believe Pakistani officials disclosed information about the raid to the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani insurgents.

“We don’t know the specifics of what happened,” Mr. Gates said on Monday. “There are suspicions and there are questions, but I think there was clearly disappointment on our part.”

Mr. Rogers said Pakistan has yet to make a decision after the U.S. raid against bin Laden to redouble the country’s efforts to fight terrorism. He said that U.S. Embassy operations were being hindered by Pakistan’s military in some cases. He also said the country needed to be more transparent and allow U.S. intelligence officials access to detainees.

“Now is the time to put more pressure on Pakistan to do the right thing,” he said.

Mr. Rogers said he considered Pakistan to be a “military with a country,” not a country with a military. For now, the military has not chosen to strengthen its alliance with the United States against al Qaeda and the Taliban following the raid on bin Laden’s compound.

“They could have said ‘we are going to redouble our efforts with the United States, we are going to fight extremism, we are going to fight terrorism, we are going to join with you as partners to try to remove the extremist and dangerous elements in Pakistan that we know have targeted the United States in the past,’” he said.

That would have been the outcome we looked for, thats the outcome we were hoping for, thats the outcome we were advocating for with Pakistan. Unfortunately I think my trip confirmed for me and all the intelligence I see that is not the Pakistan that we find ourselves with today, he added.

Mark Schneider, the senior vice president of the International Crisis Group, said Mr. Rogers is correct to criticize the Pakistani military. But he added that the civilian government should not have to pay for the misdeeds of the army.

“It is the Pakistani military that has refused to do this, not the elected civilian government, he said. “If you are going to put conditions on the relationship, we should find a way to put conditions on the military.

In his talk Tuesday, Mr. Rogers also said it was “naive to expect negotiations with the Taliban to lead to a viable exit strategy from Afghanistan.

Mr. Rogers made his remarks Tuesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies less than 12 hours after the Republican front-runner for the 2012 presidential nomination, former Gov. Mitt Romney, hinted that it was time to start bringing U.S. troops home.

The remarks from Mr. Rogers also come as the Obama administration is once again debating the size of the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan that is scheduled to start next month.

“Some notion that we are going to negotiate our way out of this is the Afghanistan we want, not the Afghanistan we find, Mr. Rogers said.

Mr. Schneider agreed. He said: “Without the Pakistan military closing down safe havens it is hard to see how a negotiation reaches any kind of serious outcome.”

Mr. Rogers also criticized the notion of some advocates who say U.S. war in Afghanistan could evolve into a conflict fought mainly by special operations forces. “They are called special forces for a reason. They are used in special circumstances, he said., noting that it was a mistake to expect special forces to train the Afghan police or conduct stability operations, for example, to keep the peace in local Afghan towns and villages.

Since the end of 2009, Vice President Joseph R. Biden has favored the special operations-oriented counterterrorism approach to Afghanistan against those favoring a larger counterinsurgency model favored by Gen. David Petraeus, outgoing commander of International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

The Biden approach would require fewer U.S. forces and shift the focus in Afghanistan toward building capable security institutions and local government and smaller-scale, targeted operations against terrorist leaders.

The debate, according to Mr. Rogers, is still going on in the administration.

Last week, Leon Panetta, the president’s nominee to replace Mr. Gates at Defense, would not tell senators during a hearing how many troops he believed should start leaving Afghanistan next month, when the first withdrawals are scheduled.

“The one thing I think we don’t talk a lot about it, is the sheer uncertainty of where we are going,” Mr. Rogers said. “If we don’t get that problem fixed, here at home so our allies overseas can understand it, I think we are going to be in some serious trouble.”

• Eli Lake can be reached at elake@washingtontimes.com.

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