U.S. Presses Pakistan to Go After Specific Militant Leaders

Osama bin Laden's top deputy Ayman al Zawahiri heads the most wanted list.

ByABC News
May 27, 2011, 8:03 AM

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, May 27, 2011— -- The United States has drawn up a list of five militant Islamic leaders it expects Pakistan to provide intelligence about immediately and possibly target in joint operations, including Osama bin Laden deputy Ayman al Zawahiri and Taliban commander Mullah Omar, according to a U.S. official and a Pakistani official.

The list also includes Siraj Haqqani, the operational commander of the Haqqani network, the most violent group in the Afghan Taliban and believed to be run out of the Pakistani tribal areas; Ilyas Kashmiri, a senior member of al Qaeda once dubbed "the next Osama bin Laden"; and Atiya Abdel Rahman, the Libyan operations chief of al Qaeda who had emerged as a key intermediary between bin Laden and al Qaeda's affiliate networks across the world.

The list was discussed during three separate meetings between senior Pakistani and U.S. officials in the past two weeks, including today in Islamabad with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, according to a U.S. official, a Pakistani government official and a Pakistani intelligence official.

The United States views the list as a test of whether Pakistan is serious about fighting terrorists who have long enjoyed safe havens within its borders.

But the list does not only include militants the United States wants Pakistan to target. In the case of Omar, the United States is interested in determining whether he can be part of political reconciliation in Afghanistan, and is pushing the Pakistanis to facilitate such an outcome, according to two U.S. officials. The United States has already opened a dialogue with a man believed to be an emissary of Omar, according to two senior Afghan officials, but is proceeding cautiously.

Clinton and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen, who flew into Islamabad ahead of Clinton, today urged Pakistan to support that process and do nothing to scuttle it, according to senior administration officials. Pakistani intelligence officials have in the past admitted they detained Afghan Taliban leaders who expressed a willingness to reconcile.

Speaking to the media in Islamabad, Clinton declined to address specific names but said the United States expects Pakistan to authorize "joint action against al Qaeda and its affiliates," adding, "there is still much more work required, and it is urgent."

Clinton said that after bin Laden's death, the United States and Pakistan had reached a "turning point," and U.S. officials have said that if Pakistan does not provide more cooperation, the U.S. could cut off some $2 billion in annual aid.

"It [is] up to the government of Pakistan to take decisive steps in the days ahead," Clinton said.

Clinton's meetings were as much about Pakistan as they were about Afghanistan, and the list of militants reflects that. Omar commands the Taliban fighting more than 40,000 U.S. troops in southern Afghanistan. Haqqani is the day-to-day commander of the Haqqani network, whose militants are based in North Waziristan but freely cross the border into eastern Afghanistan to attack U.S. troops.

U.S. commanders have long labeled the Haqqani network the most deadly in Afghanistan and have launched a huge campaign to target mid- and senior-level Haqqani commanders. It wasn't clear whether the United States wants Haqqani killed or wants to determine whether he, too, can join a political reconciliation process. But most U.S. officials have not expressed any willingness to open a dialogue with Haqqani leaders.