ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistani officials angered by the secret U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden declared they would conduct a full review of operations by U.S. drone aircraft over the country and rebuffed an appeal by visiting U.S. officials not to close military intelligence liaison centers, U.S. and Pakistani officials said.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Islamabad on Friday in a bid to ease the mistrust deepened by the secret May 2 raid that killed the al-Qaida chief.
Pakistani leaders see the raid as a blatant violation of their country’s sovereignty, and Washington’s decision to not inform Islamabad in advance as an example of a glaring lack of trust. For the U.S., bin Laden’s presence in the military city of Abbottabad, just 35 miles from the capital, renewed long-held suspicions among many in the U.S. that Pakistan’s intelligence community, or elements within it, knew that the al-Qaida leader was there and did nothing about it.
In a meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani and other leaders, Clinton stressed that the U.S. has seen no evidence that anyone in the upper echelons of Pakistani leadership knew about bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad.
Officials on both sides described Friday’s meeting as blunt, and acknowledged that serious disagreements remained. But they said the two sides also agreed that the relationship is mutually beneficial.
A senior U.S. official in Washington said that Pakistani officials rebuffed a U.S. request not to close the liasion offices in Peshawar and Quetta that have been used to share intelligence on militants with Pakistani ground forces.
Pakistan recently ordered U.S. special operations personnel at the so-called “fusion cells” to leave the country, a setback for U.S. efforts to form closer ties with Pakistani units fighting militants along the border with Afghanistan. U.S. officials remain hopeful that they can persuade Islamabad to allow the U.S. to re-establish the intelligence-sharing centers, the official said.
Pakistani officials said Zardari also told the Americans that his government intends to review all aspects of operations by unmanned U.S. drone aircraft, which has become deeply unpopular among Pakistanis.
Operating from a base inside Pakistan, the CIA regularly launches Hellfire missiles from armed drones at al-Qaida suspects and other militants in so-called tribal areas of northwest Pakistan.
The CIA also reportedly operated a stealth drone aircraft, known as the RQ 170 Sentinel, before and during the May 2 raid on bin Laden’s compound. Pakistani officials were alarmed because unlike most drones, the Sentinel is designed to evade radar and other surveillance systems, and thus can be used as a spy plane.
In the wake of the bin Laden raid, the U.S.-Pakistan relationship reached a “turning point” that required Pakistani leaders to improve cooperation with the U.S. in uprooting al-Qaida and its allied militant groups from Pakistani territory, Clinton said.