‘Obama’s Wars’ Reveals Secrets of Pakistani Leaders
By Shaheen Sehbai
Bob Woodward’s book “Obama’s Wars” has spilled so many beans about the Pakistani leadership that it is hard to determine how he was allowed to quote officials about events which are only months old, with work still in progress, and making disclosures that could create a turmoil for the political leadership in Pakistan.
For instance, his book reveals that a special force of 3,000 hot pursuit US troops was carrying out operations inside Pakistani territory from the Afghan side, Pakistani airbases were still being used for drone attacks, US just did not trust the ISI, Zardari had stated to CIA chief clearly that civilian deaths did not worry him at all, the US would bomb 150 camps inside Pakistan if there was another attack inside US, besides many other details which had never been revealed.
But the very fact that Woodward has been able to sit with the top leaders in important meetings and has been allowed to write things which were otherwise never released to the public, shows the US leadership was sending clear messages about their intentions and plans.
Woodward, on page 52, writes that on December 9, before Obama took oath as president, the DNI and CIA chief gave him a briefing listing 14 highly classified covert actions, the nature of those actions, and the written findings from Bush and other presidents.
These 14 operations, Hayden said, included operations in 60 countries, clandestine, lethal counterterrorism operations to stop terrorists worldwide, including drone attacks on camps anywhere.
How much are you doing in Pakistan, Obama asked. Hayden’s response, quoted by Bob Woodward, is revealing. “Hayden said 80 percent of America’s worldwide attacks were there (in Pakistan). We own the sky. The drones take off and land at secret bases in Pakistan. Al-Qaeda is training people in the tribal areas who, if you saw them in the visa line at Dulles ( Washington Airport), you would not recognize as potential threats.”
Giving details of other operations in Iran, North Korea, Turkey, Sudan, Iraq and Jordan, the CIA director made a startling revelation about Afghanistan. Besides the drone attacks, CIA has a 3,000 strong army of Counter Terrorism Pursuit Teams (CTPT).
This figure was given by Hayden before Obama was inducted as president. Later, the new CIA chief Leon Panetta and National Security Adviser Jim Jones were sent by Obama to Pakistan to talk to Zardari and Kayani after the failed Faisal Shahzad bombing at Times Square in New York and the details of their meetings provide a rare view of how the Americans see their war in Afghanistan and Pakistan and what they intend to do.
“How can you fight a war and have safe havens across the border?” Panetta asked in frustration. The latest intelligence showed trucks crossing the border that were full of Taliban combatants with all kinds of weapons packed in the back. They were being waved through into Afghanistan to kill Americans at checkpoints controlled by the Pakistanis. “It’s a crazy kind of war,” Panetta said.
Woodward reported: “The US needed some kind of ground forces, he (Panetta) concluded. “We can’t do this without some boots on the ground. They could be Pakistani boots or they can be our boots, but we got to have some boots on the ground.”
The US quick strike JSOC units were too visible. The main alternative was a giant expansion of the covert war. His 3,000-man Counter Terrorism Pursuit Teams were now conducting cross border operations into Pakistan.
Woodward also gives a startling quote of President Zardari about the drone strikes. On page 26, he narrates that ex-CIA Director Mike Hayden visited Zardari in Inter-Continental Barclay Hotel in New York where Zardari and Ambassador Husain Haqqani waited for him.
There had been drone attacks in Pakistan and several accidental deaths had taken place and the Pakistani media was clobbering the US. But Woodward reported this was only half of the story. Many Westerners, including some US passport holders, had been killed five days earlier on the Kam Sham training camp in North Waziristan, Hayden told Zardari. But the CIA would not reveal the particulars due to the implications under American law.
A top secret CIA map detailing the attack was given to the Pakistanis. Missing from it was the alarming fact about the American deaths. Was al-Qaeda developing a fifth column of US citizens who did not need visas to pass through immigration and customs? The CIA was not going to elaborate.
The book reveals: After an hour of conversation, the Pakistani president met one-on-one with Hayden. Zardari wanted to clear the air about the controversy over civilian deaths from drones. He had only been president since September and could afford a drop in his approval ratings. Innocent deaths were the cost of doing business against senior al-Qaeda leaders.
“Kill the seniors,” Zardari said. “Collateral damage worries you Americans. It does not worry me.” Reporting this startling statement, Woodward said: “Zardari had just given the CIA an important green light...”
Woodward’s book does not deal with the events after July 2010 as it was already published, but this confirmation by the Panetta-Jones team in May reported by him, gives a new meaning to the present state of the war, seen in the light of the NATO helicopter strikes which NATO first claimed were in self-defense and when Pakistan Army reacted fiercely and stopped all NATO supplies, the US authorities panicked and started offering apologies at all levels.
What Woodward writes about meetings of Panetta and Jones with Zardari and General Kayani show how different players in the Pakistani troika were dealing with the US war on terror.
Woodward writes: “Jones and Panetta were looking for a breakthrough, hoping this time would be different. It now seemed more likely than ever that a terrorist trained in Pakistan would carry out a deadly attack on US soil. On past trips, they had prodded Pakistan to do more about the safe havens used by al-Qaeda, the Quetta Shura Taliban, the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). The Pakistanis had for the past year argued that their main priority was TTP. Now Jones and Panetta would have to try to persuade them to do more about that group.
“We’re living on borrowed time,” Jones said at the meeting with Zardari and other top officials. “We consider the Times Square attempted bombing a successful plot because neither the American nor the Pakistani intelligence agencies could intercept it and stop it.” Only luck prevented a catastrophe.
“Jones said that President Obama wanted four things: full intelligence sharing, more cooperation on counter-terrorism, faster approval of visas for US personnel, and, despite past refusals, the sharing of airline passenger data,” Woodward writes.
He continues: “If, God forbid, Shahzad’s SUV had blown up in Times Square, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, Jones warned. The president would be forced to do things that Pakistan would not like. The president wants everyone in Pakistan to understand if such an attack connected to a Pakistani group is successful there are some things even he would not be able to stop. Just as there are political realities in Pakistan, there are political realities in the US. No one will be able to stop the response and consequences. This is not a threat, just a statement of political fact.”
Wait a second, Zardari replied, if we were having a strategic partnership, why in the face of a crisis like you’re describing would we not draw closer together rather than have this divide us? “President Obama’s only choice would be to respond, Jones said. There would be no alternative. The US can no longer tolerate Pakistan’s a’ la carte approach to going after some terrorist groups and supporting, if not owning, others. You are playing Russian roulette. The chamber has turned out empty the past several times, but there will be a round in that chamber someday,” Woodward continued reporting in the meeting.
“Jones did not reveal that an American response could entail a retribution campaign of bombing up to 150 known terrorist safe havens inside Pakistan,” Woodward stated.
“You can do something that costs you no money,” Jones said. “It may be politically difficult, but it’s the right thing to do if you really have the future of your country in mind. And that is to reject all forms of terrorism as a viable instrument of national policy inside your borders.”
“We rejected it,” Zardari said. Jones begged to differ. He cited evidence of Pakistan support or toleration of Mulla Omar’s Quetta Shura and the Haqqani network, the two leading Taliban groups killing US soldiers in Afghanistan.
As a result of FBI interviews done in the US and other intelligence, Panetta said they had a good outline of the TTP network, showing ties to the Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad. He took out a so-called link chart showing the connections. “Look, this is it,” the CIA director explained. “This is the network. Leads back here.” He traced it out with his finger for the Pakistani leaders. “And we’re continuing to pick up intelligence streams that indicate TTP is going to conduct other attacks in the US.” This was a matter of solid intelligence, he said, not speculation.
“Just to be clear,” the CIA director added, “the Times Square bomber, thank God, did not get enough training.” His training in bomb making had been compressed. “But if that had gone off, perhaps hundreds, if not thousands, of Americans would’ve been killed.”
Underscoring Jones’s point, he said, “If that happens all bets are off.” If something like that happens, Zardari said defensively, “It doesn’t mean that somehow we’re suddenly bad people or something. We’re still partners.”
No, both Jones and Panetta said. There might be no way to save the strategic partnership.
Jones and Panetta also met General Kayani privately, Woodward reported. Jones told Kayani the clock was starting now on all four of the requests. Obama wanted a progress report in 30 days. “But Kayani would not budge very much. He had other concerns. “I’ll be the first to admit, I’m India-centric,” he said.
In the meeting with Kayani, Panetta laid out a series of additional requests for CIA operations. He had come to believe that the Predator (drones) and other unmanned aerial vehicles were the most precise weapons in the history of warfare. He wanted to use them more.
Pakistan allowed Predator drone flights in specified geographic areas called “boxes”. Since the Pakistanis had massive numbers of ground troops in the south, they would not allow a “box” in that area. “We need to have that box,” Panetta said. “We need to be able to conduct our operations.” Kayani said he would see that they had some access.
Writing about their meetings in Pakistan in May, Woodward disclosed that Panetta and Jones had left Pakistan feeling that they had made only baby steps. Courtesy The News