The Plot Thickens in Pakistan

By David Ignatius - May 11, 2011

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The Pakistani dossier starts with a joint CIA-ISI raid in the Abbottabad area in 2004, pursuing Abu Faraj al-Libi, often described as al-Qaeda's No. 3 official. He was captured the next year in another joint operation in Mardan, west of Abbottabad.

The Pakistanis argue their telephone intercepts may have helped CIA analysts identify the courier who was sheltering bin Laden and trace him to the compound in Abbottabad. ISI officials, in particular, cite several telephone calls in Arabic in 2009 that may have been crucial, including at least one from the general vicinity of Abbottabad.

Communications intercepts have always been crucial to U.S. operations against al-Qaeda. In some instances, such as wireless calls, the U.S. can collect signals unilaterally. But in intercepting some land-line and Internet communications, the U.S. had secret official cooperation, according to a Pakistani source. The source says this led to the sharing of many hundreds of useful calls and numbers.

As another sign of anti-terrorist operations in the region, a Pakistani official cites the Jan. 25 capture in Abbottabad of Umar Patek, a leader of the Indonesian affiliate of al-Qaeda that planned the 2002 Bali bombing.

The final irony was the presence in Abbottabad of Special Forces in late 2008. They were part of a clandestine mission to train members of the Pakistani Frontier Corps. The training camp was later moved to Warsak, northwest of Peshawar, but for a few months American warriors apparently were living and working less than two miles from bin Laden.

What angers U.S. officials is that the ISI may be helpful with one hand, but with the other assists groups that threaten Americans. One example is the Haqqani network, the deadliest Taliban faction in eastern Afghanistan; another is Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Kashmiri group whose alleged links with the ISI will be explored in a trial scheduled to open next week in Chicago.

The fact that bin Laden lived for so long under the military's nose, as it were, has prompted some stinging commentary in Pakistan, such as this riposte in the newspaper Dawn last week from columnist Cyril Almeida: "If we didn't know, we are a failed state; if we did know, we are a rogue state. But does anybody really believe they didn't know?"

And what happens next, as the U.S. begins to exploit the "treasure trove" of information found in bin Laden's compound? Among other things, that cache may reveal what, if anything, Pakistani officials knew, and when they knew it.

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Copyright 2011, Washington Post Writers Group

David Ignatius

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