FBI & Pentagon Teaming In Pakistan?

USA Soldiers in Afghanistan, Map, RKF CBS/AP

American law enforcement agencies have been working in tandem with the American military in Pakistan in an unusual and sustained effort to hunt down fighters of Al Qaeda who fled their sanctuaries in Afghanistan and are struggling to revive their group, The New York Times reports in its Sunday editions.

In Pakistani cities, FBI agents are helping the local police and providing information — in rare instances even personnel — to break up what senior American intelligence and law enforcement officials regard as a depleted but still dangerous network, the Times says. In recent weeks, they say, it has carried out deadly attacks against Westerners in Karachi and Islamabad.

In the barren terrain along the Afghan border, elite American soldiers are using intelligence sent from American reconnaissance units in Afghanistan and high-tech surveillance overhead to track Qaeda fighters crossing into Pakistan, according to the Times.

Never before have the traditionally independent military and law enforcement organizations worked so much in concert, sharing information and expertise as Al Qaeda tries to reconstitute itself in Pakistan, the Times asserts. The cooperation goes far beyond joint efforts in the past to fight the flow of drugs.

Pakistan has become a laboratory for how American power could be used to combat terror, the Times says. Similar, if smaller, American operations appear to be unfolding in the Philippines and Yemen, where the F.B.I. continues its investigation of the attack in October 2000 on the Navy destroyer Cole.

The deployment, which includes intelligence officers in Pakistan, marks a shift in the Bush administration's antiterror strategy, the Times explains. It says the new approach is driven by the recognition that after the American military successes in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda's center of gravity has shifted east, first into the tribal areas of Pakistan, and then into its cities.

Al Qaeda's movement presents American leaders with new problems, as these terrorists reach out to like-minded Pakistani militants and make extensive use of the Internet and cellphones in densely populated urban areas, the Times adds.

A glimpse into the future came last month, when a Pakistani group, apparently financed by Al Qaeda, carried out a deadly attack just outside the American Consulate in Karachi.

"If you don't do anything, you risk simply allowing Al Qaeda to replicate the platform they had in Afghanistan," said a senior American government official, explaining the coordinated effort in Pakistan.

American agents in Pakistan and elsewhere are treading softly, for fear of infuriating local populations and undercutting shaky governments like that of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's leader.

Separately, the head of Germany's BND foreign intelligence network said in a newspaper interview due to be published on Sunday that Osama bin Laden is alive, probably in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"Given the information we have we are convinced that bin Laden is still alive," August Hanning, president of the Bundesnachrichtendienst agency, told Welt am Sonntag newspaper. Bin Laden is Washington's main suspect in the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

"He is still the figurehead of al Qaeda, but doesn't appear to move around very much, and if at all, in a very conspiratorial way," Hanning said.

Hanning said there were an estimated 5,000 al Qaeda and Taliban supporters still in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Others had returned to their countries of origin.

"They are preparing new attacks from their new locations. They will do all they can to strike again. We have to be prepared for that," Hanning told the newspaper, which released the interview ahead of publication on Sunday.

Hanning said major attacks such as the September 11 suicide assaults had taken place with bin Laden's blessing, but that he had not been involved in operational planning.

"He didn't prepare the attacks operationally, probably didn't even know all the details of the preparations," said Hanning.

He added that the September 11 attacks had cost al Qaeda little more than one million dollars.

Bin Laden now saw even more reason to attack the United States because he wanted to exact revenge for the U.S.-led campaign that ousted Afghanistan's Taliban rulers, Hanning added.

His comments follow a statement on Wednesday by a man claiming to be a spokesman for al Qaeda that bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar were alive and well.

Germany has played a central part in the investigation into the September 11 attacks. Three of the four suspected hijackers, including Mohammed Atta, their alleged ringleader, lived for years in the German port city of Hamburg.
  • Brian Dakss

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