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

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

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.

Afghan and American officials believe Pakistan's premiere intelligence service, the ISI, maintains influence over the Haqqani network and can help target it or convince it to open a political dialogue.

The three al Qaeda members on the list are as much enemies of Pakistan as they are of the United States.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, who provides much of the ideological base of al Qaeda, regularly urges Pakistanis to rise up against their government and military for supporting U.S. policies.

Ilyas Kashmiri, while slightly lesser known, has emerged as one of the most dangerous terrorists of the past five years, a militant with international goals and connections across the Arab and South Asian worlds. He has been linked with attacks in India and Europe and although the Pakistani army officially denies it, Pakistani military officials admit he received military training. He long ago turned his sights against Pakistan, and Pakistani officials believe he tried to kill then-President Pervez Musharraf in 2003.

Atiya Abdel Rahman is believed to have provided bin Laden a connection with the outside world as the al Qaeda leader hid in Pakistan. A Libyan, he has "been in regular contact with senior ranking al Qaeda leaders" and "has gained considerable stature in al Qaeda as an explosives expert and Islamic scholar," according to the Department of Justice.

Pakistani and U.S. officials believe Rahman might have been killed in a drone strike last fall but say that is unconfirmed.

Today's four hours of meetings in Islamabad were meant to "rebuild the trust" eroded by the U.S.' decision to launch a unilateral raid to kill Osama bin Laden without informing Pakistan beforehand, Mullen said. They were also a sign, in the words of a senior administration official, that the relationship has been "walked back from the brink."

One trust building event occurred this morning, according to Clinton, when the CIA walked into Osama bin Laden's former compound with high tech equipment to find any materials hidden in the walls. The CIA, according to a senior U.S. official, had been asking for access for weeks, and only in the past few days did Pakistanis grant it.

Clinton said bin Laden was a major theme in today's talks, and she said Pakistan officials admitted that "someone, somewhere" helped provide bin Laden support. But she went out of her way to repeat that the U.S. has no evidence senior government officials knew bin Laden was hiding in a large compound just a few thousand feet from Pakistan's equivalent of West Point.

Clinton and Mullen also pushed for help on cracking down on IEDs used in Afghanistan, according to a senior U.S. official. The majority of roadside bombs that have killed more U.S. troops than any other weapon come from materials made in Pakistani factories, according to NATO officials in Kabul, and then are shipped across the border for assembly and placement.

Eight U.S. soldiers died in two IED attacks Thursday in Kandahar only 12 miles from the Pakistani border. It was the deadliest roadside bomb attack since October 2009.

Clinton and Mullen, both of whom looked worried as they walked into the news conference, took pains to acknowledge Pakistani concerns and smooth over the strains in the relationship.

Clinton, especially, acknowledged the sacrifices that Pakistan has made since allying itself with the United States after 9/11.

More than 5,000 troops, 2,000 police and 10 times the number of civilians killed on 9/11 have died in Pakistan in terrorist attacks, according to Pakistani government figures.

But Clinton acknowledged that those sacrifices are rarely discussed in the international media. She raised the deadliest attack since bin Laden's death; suicide bombers who killed about 80 just-graduated recruits for a paramilitary force.

"The loss of those young men who were training to protect their country was a tragedy," she said in her most animated moment of the news conference. "And I don't know if enough Americans understood what that meant."

But Clinton also criticized the portrayal of the United States in the Pakistani media, suggesting that the government and military here have spread "deliberate misconceptions and conspiracy theories."

She said the United States and Pakistan needed to "tell the truth" to the media, and more balanced, accurate coverage would help the two countries' leadership restore trust.

"Let's clear away the underbrush," she said to Pakistani and U.S. journalists. "Let's have the kind of open, candid conversation that you and I are having now and that we had earlier today.

"And then let the chips fall where they may. But let's not be misinterpreting or misrepresenting each other, because then we can never, ever find common ground."

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