US officials say Pakistan has apparently tipped off militants at two more bomb-building factories in its tribal areas, giving the terror suspects time to flee, after US intelligence shared the locations with the Pakistani government.
Those officials believe Pakistan’s insistence on seeking local tribal elders’ permission before raiding the areas may have most directly contributed to the militants’ flight. US officials have pushed for Pakistan to keep the location of such targets secret prior to the operations, but the Pakistanis say their troops cannot enter the lawless regions -without giving the locals notice.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss matters of intelligence.
The latest incidents bring to a total of four bomb-making sites that the US has shared with Pakistan only to have the terrorist suspects flee before the Pakistani military arrived much later. The report does not bode well for attempts by both sides to mend relations and rebuild trust after the US raid on May 2 that killed late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, a Pakistani army town only 56.32km from Islamabad.
The Pakistanis believe the -Americans violated their sovereignty by keeping them in the dark about the raid. US officials believe bin Laden’s location proves some elements of the Pakistani army or intelligence service helped hide the al-Qaeda mastermind, bolstering their argument that the raid had to be done solo.
The US officials explained on Saturday how they first offered the location of the third, and then the fourth site, in order to give Pakistan another chance to prove it could be trusted to go after the militants.
In the tradition of “trust but verify,” the Americans carefully monitored the area with satellites and unmanned drones to see what would happen, after sharing the information a third and fourth time, the officials said.
In each case, they watched the militants depart within 24 hours, taking any weapons or bomb--making materials with them, just as militants had done the first two times. Only then did they watch the Pakistani military visit each site, when the terror suspects and their wares were long gone, the officials said.
Pakistan’s army on Friday disputed reports that its security forces had tipped off insurgents at bomb-making factories after getting intelligence about the sites from the US.
The army called the assertions of collusion with militants “totally false and malicious.”
Army officials further claimed they had successfully raided two more sites, after finding nothing at the first two, but a Pakistani official reached on Friday offered no details of what they found there.
However, the official said that in each raid, the Pakistani security services notified the local elders who hold sway in the tribal regions. The official said they would investigate US charges that the militants had been tipped off.
Two US officials said they were asking the Pakistanis to withhold such sensitive information from the elders, and even their lower ranks, to prove they could be trusted to keep a secret, and go after US enemies.
At least two of the sites were run by the Haqqani network, which is part of the Taliban, closely allied with al-Qaeda, and blamed for some of the deadliest attacks against US troops and civilians in Afghanistan. Pakistan has long resisted attacking the Haqqani network, saying the group has never attacked the state of Pakistan.
The intelligence sharing was intended as a precursor to building a new joint intelligence team of CIA officers together with Pakistani intelligence agents, but US officials say Pakistan has failed to quickly approve the visas needed, despite agreeing to form the team last month.
US officials have also accused Pakistan of holding up to five Pakistani nationals accused of helping the CIA spy on the Abbottabad compound in advance of the bin Laden raid.
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