The CIA believes Osama bin Laden is still in Pakistan, and the US spy agency is hoping to close in on him as Islamabad’s military cracks down on the northwestern tribal area where he is thought to be hiding.
CIA Director Leon Panetta told reporters after a speech in Congress on Thursday that finding bin Laden remains one of the CIA’s top priorities.
“I guess one of our hopes is that as Pakistani military moves in, combined with our operations, we may have a better chance to get at him,” Panetta said.
The CIA has increased the number of officers and recruited agents, or locals who provide information, in Pakistan, Panetta said.
“We have a number of people who are on the ground in Pakistan who are helping us provide targets and who are helping us provide the information that we really need to go after al-Qaeda,” he said.
In Islamabad, a spokesman for Pakistani President Asif Ai Zardari rejected Panetta’s claim and challenged the CIA to hand over any evidence it has to back it up.
“There is no truth in this CIA statement. These are all rumors,” presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said.
“Such statements keep coming, but if they know he is in Pakistan, then they should also know his exact location, and if they do, the why don’t they share it with Pakistan?” Babar said, referring to bin Laden.
In related news, the US House of Representatives on Thursday approved tripling US aid to Pakistan to about US$1.5 billion a year over the next five years as part of a strategy to combat extremism with economic and social development.
The bill also includes military aid with conditions that require US President Barack Obama’s administration to certify that Pakistan remains committed to combating terrorist groups — a provision that was criticized by the key US ally in South Asia.
The US$1.5 billion in annual funding includes money for Pakistani schools, the judicial system, parliament and law enforcement agencies.
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