Wednesday, May 29, 2002
Loose lips. Yesterday, this story in the New York Times began with, "Virtually the entire senior leadership of Al Qaeda and the Taliban have been driven out of eastern Afghanistan and are now operating with as many as 1,000 non-Afghan fighters in the anarchic tribal areas of western Pakistan, the commander of American-led forces in Afghanistan [Maj. Gen. Franklin L. Hagenbeck] said today."

Today, the NYT has this story, somewhat burried (at least on the web site), that starts off, "Senior Pakistani intelligence officials said today that recent terror attacks pointed to worrisome links between local extremists and fugitive Qaeda leaders who -- far from being concentrated along the Afghan border as American officials contend -- have filtered across the country into major cities."

Lastly, MSNBC is currently carrying this story where Hagenbeck's Pentagon superiors dispute his claims about Al Qaida planned operations and its leadership being in Western Pakistan.

So, how's a web-surfing guy in Daytona Beach supposed to make sense of these conflicting reports. Well, first, I take into account the sources. Hagenbeck is reported in the MSNBC piece to be on his way out of his position in Afghanistan, with a command structure rearrangement in the works. To me, that situation works to enhance his credibility. Alternatively, Hagenbeck could be playing the asscovering game that seems to have become obviously popular among US government officials in the past few weeks.

The unnamed ISI official's comments includes the following:

Referring to the crisis with India over the disputed Kashmir region, the intelligence leader implicitly acknowledged that Pakistan had supported Muslim separatist insurgents into Indian-held territory in the past. He insisted, however, that the infiltration that has driven the two countries to the brink of war was halted months ago.

"Ask me about the present, not about the past," said the senior officer, who was appointed by President Musharraf in the agency shake-up. "I am certainly not allowing this to happen. On this, the world may rest assured."


Last October, on the day the American bombings began in Afghanistan, President Musharraf replaced the former head of the spy agency, General Mehmood Ahmed who, according to diplomats and Pakistani intelligence experts, had grown so close to the Taliban government that he urged its chief, Mullah Muhammad Omar, to resist any demands to hand over Osama bin Laden.

By contrast, under the leadership of General Ahmed's replacement, Gen. Ehsan ul-Haq, Pakistan has won praise from the United States for its support in the war on terrorism, particularly in rounding up more than 300 Qaeda members in recent months.

"The idea of rogue elements is all nonsense," the senior I.S.I. official said. "It is unthinkable that there should be rogue elements here. Yes, we have problems, and we are restructuring in all the areas that any modern intelligence service should be good at especially fighting terrorism and doing things such as tracing money movements."

Hmmm. When someone claims "I am certainly not allowing this to happen. On this, the world may rest assured," and "It is unthinkable that there should be rogue elements here," I get suspicious that there's more than a tiny element of too much protest involved. So, I'm skeptical about the ISI officer's claims in total, even while those claims motivate attention to questions about what we should be doing to help Pakistan deal with the situation he describes, should that turn out to be factual.

(Aside: How strongly does the reminder that the new head of ISI is Gen. Ehsan ul-Haq in the middle paragraph of what's quoted immediately above suggest that he is, in fact, the unnamed ISI official quoted in the story?)

As to Pentagon dismissal's of Hagenbeck's claims, I'm mixed. It goes against the asscovering trend, which gives it a certain amount of credence. But it's also substantially further away from the action. It's also couched in weasel words: "Brig. Gen. John Rosa Jr. of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Tuesday he had not seen any intelligence reports warning of specific plots targeting the process, known as the loya jirga." Note the use of "specific." Hmmm. Is this really refuting Hagenbeck or not?

Still, one has to question the sensibility of Hagenbeck's making his initial claims, as well as the Pentagon's refuting them. Whatever happened to "loose lips sink ships"?

Addendum: USA Today (ugh) is reporting here that Al Qaida is helping Islamic militants in Kashmir.

Addendum 2: CNN reports here that the British have begun operations on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border to prevent Al Qaida operatives from disrupting the Afghan loya jirga to be held next month.