Pakistan arrests CIA informants who helped US nab Osama bin Laden

The arrest of five Pakistani CIA informants whose information helped lead the US to Osama bin Laden's compound is likely to fuel tensions and intensify congressional questions about aid to Pakistan.

By , Staff writer

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    In this May 3 file photo, local residents gather outside a house, where Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was caught and killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Pakistan arrested five CIA informants whose information helped the US find bin Laden.
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Pakistan has arrested five Pakistani CIA informants who gave information to the US that led to the raid of Osama bin Laden's compound, The New York Times and Associated Press reported Wednesday. Though both the US and Pakistan claim to be crucial partners in the battle against terrorism, the news is the most recent in a series of blows to the US-Pakistan relationship, which is already suffering because of a lack of trust on both sides.

The US sees the US-Pakistan counterterrorism partnership as crucial to ending the war in Afghanistan. But it has received a significant amount of pushback from Pakistan in recent months to its various counterterrorism efforts, particularly the drone program that targets militants in Pakistan's northwest, along the Afghan border.

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The Pakistani intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), meanwhile, has been increasingly unwilling to work with the CIA on surveillance or to grant visas to American intelligence agents. A partnership in which the US trained Pakistani paramilitary troops has also been put to an end, the Times reports. And Pakistanis are becoming highly critical of their military for allowing the US to act unilaterally on Pakistani territory.

“We have a strong relationship with our Pakistani counterparts and work through issues when they arise,” said Marie E. Harf, a C.I.A. spokeswoman. “Director Panetta had productive meetings last week in Islamabad. It’s a crucial partnership, and we will continue to work together in the fight against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups who threaten our country and theirs.”

In April, Pakistani officials, angry over what they saw as the United States' increasingly unilateral actions within their borders, demanded a complete halt to drone attacks in the northwest (which did not materialize). The demands came after months of deep tensions over Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor working covertly in the country who shot and killed two Pakistani men he claimed were trying to rob him. Pakistan said it had no knowledge of his link to the CIA prior to his arrest and were told he was a low-level US embassy employee.

The US sees sending drones to oust militants in the border region as one of its only options in the northwest, partially because the Pakistani military has resisted staging offensives in many key areas. When CIA Director Leon Panetta visited Pakistan last week, he pushed for Pakistani permission to let the drones fly over larger swaths of the northwest. Still, the US is already making contingency plans and preparing for the possibility of relocating the home base of some of the drones from Pakistan to a base in Afghanistan, the Times reports.

US officials are frustrated with Pakistan's resistance to US counterterrorism efforts, and the revelation about the detention of CIA informants is likely to fuel their dissatisfaction. Some in Congress have demanded a reduction in the amount of American aid to Pakistan, which totals $20.7 billion since 2002, according to a Christian Science Monitor report.

Military aid to Pakistan is aimed at cooperation in the war on terror.

Since 2001, Pakistan has launched offensives against Islamic-militant havens. Pakistani intelligence has helped the US nab some top Al Qaeda leaders. Islamabad has also risked popular discontent by allowing the US to base drones and more CIA operatives on its soil.

Yet the help dries up when it comes to targeting groups most active in fighting the US in Afghanistan. Insurgencies are hard to defeat when they have sanctuary across a border. Meanwhile, the Pew Research Center finds that just 11 percent of Pakistanis have a favorable view of the US, up one point from 2002.

Last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Pakistan and warned officials that if the country did not take positive, substantial steps against terrorism within its borders, the US would feel justified in acting unilaterally once again, as it did in the raid on Mr. bin Laden's compound.

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