US intel mega leak exposes Pak games
New York/Washington, July 26: Americans fighting the war in Afghanistan have long harboured strong suspicions that Pakistan’s military spy service has guided the Afghan insurgency with a hidden hand, even as Pakistan receives more than $1 billion a year from Washington to help combat the militants, according to a trove of secret US military field reports made public on Sunday.
The documents, made available by an organisation called WikiLeaks, suggest that Pakistan, an ostensible ally of the United States, allows representatives of its Inter-Services Intelligence spy service to directly meet the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organise networks of militant groups that fight against US soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders.
Taken together, the reports indicate that US soldiers on the ground are inundated with accounts of a network of Pakistani assets and collaborators that runs from the Pakistani tribal belt along the Afghan border, through southern Afghanistan, and all the way to Kabul.
Much of the information — raw intelligence and threat assessments gathered from the field in Afghanistan — cannot be verified and might be from sources linked to Afghan intelligence, which considers Pakistan an enemy, and paid informants. Some describe plots for attacks that do not appear to have taken place. But many of the reports rely on sources that the US military rates as reliable. While current and former US officials interviewed could not corroborate individual reports, they said the portrait of the ISI’s collaboration with the Afghan insurgency was broadly consistent with other classified intelligence.
Some of the reports describe Pakistani intelligence working alongside Al Qaeda to plan attacks. Experts cautioned that although Pakistan’s militant groups and Al Qaeda work together, directly linking the ISI with Al Qaeda is difficult.
The records also contain firsthand accounts of US anger at Pakistan’s unwillingness to confront insurgents who launched attacks near Pakistani border posts, moved openly by the truckload across the frontier, and retreated to Pakistani territory for safety.
The behind-the-scenes frustrations of soldiers on the ground and glimpses of what appear to be Pakistani skullduggery contrast sharply with the frequently rosy public pronouncements of Pakistan as an ally by senior US officials looking to sustain a drone campaign over parts of Pakistani territory to strike at Al Qaeda havens.
US administration officials also want to keep nuclear-armed Pakistan on their side to safeguard Nato supplies flowing on routes that cross Pakistan to Afghanistan. Earlier this month, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton announced $500 million in assistance and called the US and Pakistan “partners joined in common cause.”
The reports suggest, however, that the Pakistani military has acted as both ally and enemy, as its spy agency runs what US officials have long suspected is a double game — appeasing certain American demands for cooperation while angling to exert influence in Afghanistan through many of the same insurgent networks that the Americans are fighting to eliminate.
Behind the scenes, both Bush and Obama administration officials as well as top US commanders have confronted top Pakistani military officers with accusations of ISI complicity in attacks in Afghanistan, and even presented top Pakistani officials with lists of ISI and military operatives believed to be working with militants.
Benjamin Rhodes, deputy US national security adviser for strategic communications, said Pakistan had been an important ally in the battle against militant groups, and that Pakistani soldiers and intelligence officials had worked alongside the US to capture or kill Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders.
Still, he said the “status quo is not acceptable,” and that the havens for militants in Pakistan “pose an intolerable threat” that Pakistan must do more to address.
“The Pakistani government — and Pakistan’s military and intelligence services — must continue their strategic shift against violent extremist groups within their borders,” he said. US military support to Pakistan would continue, he said.
Several US congressional officials said despite repeated requests over the years for information about Pakistani support for militant groups, they usually receive vague and inconclusive briefings from the Pentagon and CIA.
Nonetheless, senior US legislators say they have no doubt that Pakistan is aiding insurgent groups. “The burden of proof is on the government of Pakistan and the ISI to show they don’t have ongoing contacts,” said Senator Jack Reed, a member of the armed services committee, who visited Pakistan this month. He said he and Senator Carl Levin, the committee chairman, had confronted Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani yet again over the allegations.
Such accusations are usually met with angry denials, particularly by the Pakistani military, which insists that the ISI severed its remaining ties to the groups years ago. An ISI spokesman in Islamabad said the agency would have no comment until it saw the documents. Pakistan’s ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani said: “The documents circulated by WikiLeaks do not reflect the current on-ground realities.”
The man the US has depended on for cooperation in fighting the militants and who holds most power in Pakistan, Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, ran the ISI from 2004 to 2007, a period from which many of the reports are drawn.
US officials have described Pakistan’s spy service as a rigidly hierarchical organisation that has little tolerance for “rogue” activity. But Pakistani military officials give the spy service’s “S Wing” — which runs external operations against India and Afghanistan — broad autonomy, a buffer that allows top military officials deniability.
US officials have rarely uncovered definitive evidence of direct ISI involvement in a major attack. But in July 2008, CIA deputy director Stephen R. Kappes confronted Pakistani officials with evidence that the ISI helped plan the deadly suicide bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul.
One report from the current trove identifies an ISI colonel plotting with a Taliban official to assassinate Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The report says there was no information about how or when this would be carried out.
The coordinating general
Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul ran the ISI from 1987 to 1989, a time when Pakistani spies and the CIA joined forces to run guns and money to Afghan militias then battling Soviet troops in Afghanistan. After the fighting stopped, he maintained his contacts with the former mujahideen, who would eventually transform themselves into the Taliban.
More than two decades later, it appears Gen. Gul is still at work. The documents indicate he has worked tirelessly to reactivate his old networks, employing familiar allies like Jaluluddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose networks of thousands of fighters are responsible for waves of violence in Afghanistan.
Gen. Gul is mentioned so many times in the reports, if they are to be believed, that it seems unlikely that Pakistan’s current military and intelligence officials could not know of at least some of his wide-ranging activities.
For example, one intelligence report describes him meeting a group of militants at Wana, capital of South Waziristan, in January 2009. There, he met three senior Afghan insurgent commanders and three “older” Arab men, presumably representatives of Al Qaeda, who the report suggests were important “because they had a large security contingent with them.”
The gathering was designed to hatch a plan to avenge the death of “Zamarai,” the nom de guerre of Osama al-Kini, who had been killed days earlier by a CIA drone attack. Mr Kini had directed Al Qaeda operations in Pakistan and spearheaded some of the group’s most devastating attacks.
The plot hatched at Wana that day, the report says, involved driving a dark blue Mazda truck rigged with explosives from South Waziristan to Afghanistan’s Paktika province, a route well known to be used by the insurgents to move weapons, suicide bombers and fighters from Pakistan.
In a show of strength, the Taliban leaders approved a plan to send 50 Arab and 50 Waziri fighters to Ghazni province in Afghanistan, the report said.
Gen. Gul urged Taliban commanders to focus their operations inside Afghanistan in exchange for Pakistan turning “a blind eye” to their presence in Pakistan’s tribal areas. It was unclear whether the attack was ever executed.
The US has pushed the United Nations to put Gen. Gul on a list of international terrorists, and top US officials said they believed he was an important link between active-duty Pakistani officers and militant groups.
Gen. Gul, who says he is retired and lives on his pension, dismissed the allegations as “absolute nonsense,” speaking by telephone from his home in Rawalpindi, where the Pakistani Army has its headquarters. “I have had no hand in it.” He added: “American intelligence is pulling cotton wool over your eyes.”
Suicide bomber network
The reports also chronicle efforts by ISI officers to run the networks of suicide bombers that emerged as a sudden, terrible force in Afghanistan in 2006.
The detailed reports indicate that US officials had a relatively clear understanding of how the suicide networks presumably functioned, even if some of the threats did not materialise. It is impossible to know why the attacks never came off — either they were thwarted, the attackers shifted targets, or the reports were deliberately planted as Taliban disinformation.
One report, from December 18, 2006, describes a cyclical process to develop the suicide bombers. First, the suicide attacker is recruited and trained in Pakistan. Then, reconnaissance and operational planning gets under way, including scouting to find a place for “hosting” the suicide bomber near the target before carrying out the attack.
In many cases, the reports are complete with names and ages of bombers, as well as licence plate numbers, but the Americans gathering the intelligence struggle to accurately portray many other details, introducing sometimes comical renderings of places and Taliban commanders.
In one case, a report rated by the American military as credible states that a grey Toyota Corolla had been loaded with explosives between the Afghan border and Landik Hotel, in Pakistan, apparently a mangled reference to Landi Kotal, in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The target of the plot, however, is a real hotel in downtown Kabul, the Ariana.
Several of the reports describe current and former ISI operatives, including Gen. Gul, visiting madrasas near Peshawar to recruit new fodder for suicide bombings.
One report, labelled a “real threat warning” because of its detail and the reliability of its source, described how commanders of Mr Hekmatyar’s insurgent group, Hezb-i-Islami, ordered the delivery of a suicide bomber from the Hashimiye madrasa, run by Afghans.
The boy was to be used in an attack on American or Nato vehicles in Kabul during a Muslim festival. The report says the boy was taken to Jalalabad to buy a car for the bombing, and later brought to Kabul. It is unclear if the attack actually took place.
Some bombers were sent to disrupt Afghanistan’s presidential elections held last August. In other instances, US intelligence learned that the Haqqani network sent bombers at the ISI’s behest to strike at Indian officials, development workers and engineers in Afghanistan. Other plots were aimed at the Afghan government.
Sometimes the intelligence documents twin seemingly credible detail with plots that seem fantastical or utterly implausible assertions. For instance, one report describes an ISI plan to use a remote-controlled bomb disguised as a golden Quran to assassinate Afghan officials. Another report documents an alleged plot by the ISI and Taliban to ship poisoned alcoholic beverages to Afghanistan to kill American troops.