THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Taliban war on US aided by Pakistan, documents suggest

By Mark Mazzetti, Jane Perlez, Eric Schmitt and Andrew W. Lehren
New York Times News Service / July 25, 2010

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

Text size +

Americans fighting the war in Afghanistan have long harbored 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 for its help combating the militants, according to a trove of secret military field reports made public Sunday.

The documents, made available by an organization called WikiLeaks, suggest that Pakistan, ostensibly an ally of the United States, allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders.

Taken together, the reports indicate that American 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 the capital, Kabul.

Much of the information -- raw intelligence and threat assessments gathered from the field in Afghanistan -- cannot be verified and likely comes from sources aligned with 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 military rated as reliable.

While current and former American officials interviewed could not corroborate individual reports, they said that the portrait of the spy agency's collaboration with the Afghan insurgency was broadly consistent with other classified intelligence.

Some of the reports describe Pakistani intelligence working alongside al-Qaida to plan attacks. Experts cautioned that although Pakistan's militant groups and al-Qaida work together, directly linking the Pakistani spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, with al-Qaida is difficult.

The records also contain firsthand accounts of American 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 American officials, looking to sustain a drone campaign over parts of Pakistani territory to strike at al-Qaida havens. Administration officials also want to keep nuclear-armed Pakistan on their side to safeguard NATO supplies flowing on routes that cross Pakistan to Afghanistan.

The reports suggest the Pakistani military has acted as both ally and enemy, as its spy agency runs what American 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.

Accusations that Pakistan is aiding insurgent groups 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 Sunday that the agency would have no comment until it saw the documents.

American officials have rarely uncovered definitive evidence of direct ISI involvement in a major attack. But in July 2008, the CIA's 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.

From the current trove, one report shows that Polish intelligence warned of a complex attack against the Indian Embassy a week before that bombing, though the attackers and their methods differed. The ISI was not named in the report warning of the attack.

Another, dated August 2008, identifies a colonel in the ISI plotting with a Taliban official to assassinate Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan. The report says there was no information about how or when this would be carried out. The account could not be verified.

GENERAL LINKED TO MILITANTS

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 who were battling Soviet troops in Afghanistan. After the fighting stopped, he maintained his contacts with the former mujahedeen, who would eventually transform themselves into the Taliban.

And more than two decades later, it appears that Gul is still at work. The documents indicate that 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.

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 with a group of militants in Wana, the capital of South Waziristan, in January 2009. There, he met with three senior Afghan insurgent commanders and three "older" Arab men, presumably representatives of al-Qaida, whom 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. Kini had directed al-Qaida operations in Pakistan and had spearheaded some of the group's most devastating attacks.

The plot hatched in Wana that day, according to the report, 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.

Gul urged the Taliban commanders to focus their operations inside Afghanistan in exchange for Pakistan's turning "a blind eye" to their presence in Pakistan's tribal areas. It was unclear whether the attack was ever executed.

Gul, who says he is retired and lives on his pension, dismissed the allegations as "absolute nonsense" by telephone from his home in Rawalpindi, where the Pakistani army keeps 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 American officials had a relatively clear understanding of how the suicide networks presumably functioned, even if some of the threats did not materialize. 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 Dec. 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. The network, it says, receives help from the Afghan police and the Ministry of Interior.

In many cases, the reports are complete with names and ages of bombers, as well as license 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 gray 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.

"It is likely that ISI may be involved as supporter of this attack," reads a comment in the report.

Several of the reports describe current and former ISI operatives, including Gul, visiting madrassas near the city of Peshawar, a gateway to the tribal areas, to recruit new fodder for suicide bombings.

One report, labeled a "real threat warning" because of its detail and the reliability of its source, described how commanders of Hekmatyar's insurgent group, Hezb-i-Islami, ordered the delivery of a suicide bomber from the Hashimiye madrassa, run by Afghans.

The boy was to be used in an attack on American or NATO vehicles in Kabul during the Muslim Festival of Sacrifices that opened Dec. 31, 2006. According to the report, the boy was taken to the Afghan city of Jalalabad to buy a car for the bombing, and was later brought to Kabul. It was unclear whether the attack took place.

TENSIONS WITH PAKISTAN

The flood of reports of Pakistani complicity in the insurgency has at times led to barely disguised tensions between American and Pakistani officers on the ground.

Meetings at border outposts set up to develop common strategies to seal the frontier and disrupt Taliban movements reveal deep distrust among the Americans of their Pakistani counterparts.

On Feb. 7, 2007, American officers met with Pakistani troops on a dry riverbed to discuss the borderlands surrounding Afghanistan's Khost Province.

According to notes from the meeting, the Pakistanis portrayed their soldiers as conducting around-the-clock patrols. Asked if he expected a violent spring, a man identified in the report as Lt. Col. Bilal, the Pakistani officer in charge, said no. His troops were in firm control.

The Americans were incredulous. Their record noted that there had been a 300 percent increase in militant activity in Khost before the meeting.

"This comment alone shows how disconnected this particular group of leadership is from what is going on in reality," the notes said.

Boston.com top stories on Twitter

    waiting for twitterWaiting for Twitter to feed in the latest...