Pakistan aided embassy strike, Mullen says
Directly links spy agency to militants
WASHINGTON - Pakistan’s intelligence agency aided insurgents who attacked the US Embassy in Kabul last week, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate yesterday.
In comments that were the first to directly link Pakistan’s powerful spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, with an assault on the United States, Mullen went further than any other US official in blaming the agency for undermining the US military effort in Afghanistan.
The United States has long said that Pakistan’s spy agency has close ties to Afghan insurgents, especially the Haqqani network, but no one has been as blunt as Mullen.
Mullen will retire this month, and coming from him the statements carried exceptional weight. He has been the US military official who has led the effort for years to improve cooperation with Pakistan. But relations have reached a nadir since US commandos killed Osama bin Laden deep inside Pakistan in May. Officials in Pakistan were not told of the raid in advance, and questions remain about whether Pakistan’s intelligence was sheltering the Al Qaeda leader.
The attack on the US embassy, and the spy agency’s support for the Haqqani network - which also forms one of the most lethal parts of the insurgency attacking US forces in Afghanistan - is the latest point of tension.
Pakistan’s intelligence agency has supported the Haqqani network as a way to further Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan. Yesterday, Mullen made clear that support extended to increasingly high-profile attacks aimed directly at the United States.
“With ISI support, Haqqani operatives planned and conducted that truck bomb attack, as well as the assault on our embassy,’’ Mullen told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “We also have credible evidence that they were behind the June 28 attack against the Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul and a host of other smaller but effective operations.’’
In short, he said, “the Haqqani network acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency.’’
The truck bomb attack that Mullen referred to occurred at a NATO outpost south of Kabul on Sept. 10, when a cargo vehicle packed with explosives killed at least five people and wounded 77 coalition troops. The injury toll was one of the worst for foreign forces in a single episode in the 10-year war.
It is unclear what steps US officials are prepared to take against the Haqqani network, but the increasingly strong public statements indicated that reining in the group has become a more urgent priority as the United States looks to withdraw from Afghanistan and leave a stable country and viable government behind.
Yesterday, the interior minister of Pakistan, Rehman Malik, said his government would “not allow’’ a US operation aimed at the Haqqani network in North Waziristan.
Malik seemed to indicate that Obama administration officials had threatened Tuesday in their meetings in Washington with the head of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, that US troops were prepared to cross the border from Afghanistan into North Waziristan to attack Haqqani militants.
“The Pakistan nation will not allow the boots on our ground, never,’’ Malik said in an interview with Reuters.
In a meeting in Islamabad with the head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, Malik said the Haqqani network was not present in Pakistan, which US officials said they found disingenuous.
In his remarks to Pakistani reporters Wednesday, Malik said that if the United States provided information on the Haqqani network in Pakistan, “law enforcement’’ would go after them.
No decisions had been made on what actions the Obama administration might take against the Haqqani network in North Waziristan, a senior US official said.