Washington/Islamabad, May 4: In a snub to Pakistan, CIA chief Leon Panetta today said ‘Operation Geronimo' to kill Osama bin Laden could have been compromised if the US had informed authorities in that country of the mission, drawing a swift reaction from Islamabad which called his comments “disquieting.”
Panetta told Senators at a briefing on the Osama mission that the administration decided against informing Pakistan because of fears that the details would leak and the mission could be compromised, a lawmaker present at the meeting was quoted as saying by ‘The Hill', which covers the Congress.
Earlier, the CIA Director told Time magazine that it was decided that any effort to work with the Pakistanis could “jeopardise” the mission.
After the briefing by Panetta, Congressman Peter King told reporters: “It's impossible to believe that with the sophisticated intelligence agency and military apparatus that Pakistan has that they could have the most notorious criminal in the world living in plain sight, right in front of them and not know about it,”
“Pakistan should also realise that many members in Congress are raising serious questions, why should we be giving USD 3 billion a year to Pakistan if they can't capture the world's most notorious terrorist living right in their midst?”.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson was quoted as saying by The Hill after the meeting that “we recognise that this relationship has been strained. But nonetheless, we also recognise its strategic importance and the need for us to work together.”
Nancy Pelosi, ex-Speaker of US House of Representatives, said it was a classified briefing. “I think the members were very appreciative with the thoroughness of the briefing that we received. I don't believe they came out prepared to confirm or deny anything that may be in the public domain.”
Panetta, in an interview to NBC News, hoped that the US could continue to work with Pakistan, “because the reality is that in that part of the world, we have to have Pakistan's cooperation in dealing not just with the issue of terrorism in their country, but dealing with the issue of how we find peace in Afghanistan.”
He said: “At the same time, obviously, there - there are questions. And there are complications that we have to work through with the Pakistanis.”
“The reality is that we continue to confront our enemy in their country. We conduct operations against that enemy and their country. They have provided cooperation with regards to that effort to go after those terrorists.”
Meanwhile, Pakistan described as “disquieting” Panetta's remarks that no intelligence about the US raid that killed bin Laden was shared with Islamabad for fear that the operation would be jeopardised.
“Most of these things that have happened in terms of global anti-terror, Pakistan has played a pivotal role... So it's a little disquieting when we have comments like this,” Pakistan Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir said.
Bashir told the BBC that Pakistan had a “pivotal role” in fighting terrorism.
He said Panetta was entitled to his views but Pakistan had cooperated extensively with the US.
Bin Laden was shot dead during the raid by helicopter-borne US special forces early on Monday.
Bashir said the compound in Abbottabad, where bin Laden was found, had been identified as suspicious some time ago by ISI.
It took the CIA's greater resources to determine that it was the al-Qaeda leader's hideout, he said.
Pakistan's Foreign Office yesterday issued a statement saying that the country's civil and military leadership had no prior information of the US raid, which it described as an “unauthorised unilateral action” that should not be repeated.
The statement also defended the ISI, saying the spy agency had been sharing intelligence with the US about the “target compound” in Abbottabad since 2009.
However, several questions have been raised following the killing of bin Laden in the compound located just about 800 yards from the Pakistan Military Academy, one of the country's main military training facilities.
US officials have questioned whether elements in Pakistan's military and intelligence set-ups had known about bin Laden's presence in the compound for as long as five years and were providing the world's most wanted man a “support system”. PTI