Pakistan Issues New Warning to US; Mullen Accusations Softened

Joint Chiefs Chair Admiral Michael Mullen

There are new developments this morning in the latest war of words between the US and Pakistan.  Pakistan’s Express Tribune reports that an official familiar with what transpired claims that the head of Pakistan’s ISI informed CIA chief David Petraeus last week that should the US take unilateral military action against the Haqqani network in Pakistan, then Pakistan “will be forced to retaliate”.  At the same time, anonymous sources are telling the Washington Post that Joint Chiefs Chair Michael Mullen’s remarks last week to the Senate Armed Services Committee were “overstated”.  That is especially significant since the Express Tribune article notes that Mullen’s remarks played a role in the ISI getting to the point of issuing its warning to the CIA.

From the Express Tribune:

The effort to ensure that diplomacy and calmer heads prevail at a time of fragile relations between Pakistan and the United States is on. However, the effort notwithstanding, Islamabad has made it clear to Washington that, if it comes down to it, Pakistan will be forced to retaliate if American forces attempt to launch a unilateral strike on the country’s tribal belt.

The message was personally delivered by Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) Chief Lt General Ahmed Shuja Pasha to Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief General David Petraeus during his recent trip to Washington, said an official familiar with the development.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Express Tribune that Pasha had informed his counterpart that the Pakistani people will not tolerate any US misadventure and in that case the government will be left with no other option but to retaliate.

Senior ISI members, the official said, had felt ‘betrayed’ by the blunt assessment of the US Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen that the spy agency had links with the Afghan Taliban-allied Haqqani network. In a stinging remark, Mullen accused ISI of supporting one of the most feared Afghan insurgent groups to target US forces stationed in Afghanistan.

The article goes on to point out that numerous high level meetings between US and Pakistani officials continue.

Meanwhile, back in the US:

Adm. Mike Mullen’s assertion last week that an anti-American insurgent group in Afghanistan is a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s spy service was overstated and contributed to overheated reactions in Pakistan and misperceptions in Washington, according to American officials involved in U.S. policy in the region.

The internal criticism by the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to challenge Mullen openly, reflects concern over the accuracy of Mullen’s characterizations at a time when Obama administration officials have been frustrated in their efforts to persuade Pakistan to break its ties to Afghan insurgent groups.

It turns out that the primary evidence linking the US Embassy attack and the Haqqani network is not as clear-cut as some in Washington were claiming. Although Mullen claims to have been unaware of the cell phone evidence when he made his remarks, cell phones found on some of the attackers are widely cited as evidence of close Haqqani network-ISI coordination in the attack:

One official said the phones were used to make repeated calls to numbers associated with the Haqqani network, as well as presumed “ISI operatives.” But the official declined to explain the basis for that conclusion.

The senior Pentagon official treated the assertion with skepticism, saying the term “operatives” covers a wide range of supposed associates of the ISI. “Does it mean the same Haqqani numbers [also found in the phones], or is it actually uniformed officers” of Pakistan’s spy service?

There will undoubtedly be several more twists and turns to this story over the next few weeks, but for now it appears that the US is making a small effort to walk back its most incendiary comments while Pakistan is digging in more firmly on its position.

23 replies
  1. Saltinwound says:

    The emphasis on whether they are uniformed officers is weak. Let’s just assume that not all spy service officers are in uniform.

  2. rg says:

    @Saltinwound: That remark puzzled me too. In fact I’m dubious that any in a spy service wear uniforms. And too also, Even if so, what difference would it make with regard to the nature of the calls? Is Pentagon Official spinning?

  3. William Ockham says:

    I’m fascinated by what this whole episode says about the internal power struggles within both governments. Mullen is a very media-savvy guy. His father was a Hollywood press agent. Mullen is very comfortable going on “The Daily Show”. He understands the power of the media. He knew exactly what he was doing when he testified. And he was very obviously speaking for the administration.

    In the time-honored tradition of Washington, the losers in the internecine bureacratic battle over “Do we call out the Pakistanis for playing both sides of the field” run to the WaPo and say, basically, that everything Mullen said was true, but he went too far (seriously, look at what they told the WaPo and what Mullen actually testified to).

    I especially love this paragraph (coming after the accusation that Mullen overstated his case)

    The internal criticism by the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to challenge Mullen openly, reflects concern over the accuracy of Mullen’s characterizations at a time when Obama administration officials have been frustrated in their efforts to persuade Pakistan to break its ties to Afghan insurgent groups.

    [My emphasis]

    I think that is truer than intended. They aren’t concerned because what he said was inaccurate, they are really concerned about the fact that what he said was accurate.

  4. Timbo says:

    Who wins if Pakistan and the US go at it? Basically, it looks like the Taliban and Al-Qaeda are still running rings around the US and Pakistani spooks…

  5. Nox Ninox says:

    I’m wondering what role David (I never met a Pashtun I didn’t want to bomb) Petraeus played in all of this. Perhaps he punked Mullen with an overly definitive briefing in an effort to flip the last remaining Administration dove, and so open the door for the kind of sustained drone campaign the good General never got to implement when he was in charge over there?

    Just a thought…

  6. Jim White says:

    @Nox Ninox: Yeah, we really do need to wonder what kind of pot-stirring the ass-kissing little chickenshit is up to since he now has a new cloak of secrecy. Putting him in that job was such a “smart” move.


  7. Mary says:

    So much I’d like to rant on about, but no time left for now. Add in Graham trying to put going to war with Pakistan on the table, China staging high profile photo shoots with the Pakistanis, Saudi Arabia having behind the scene meet and greets under the cover of the joint maneuvers with Pakistan, and a few more things, and it’s all going to be interesting – or would be, if it weren’t too important to have been allowed to devolve to “interesting.”

    Part of the issue is how tight Obamaco have gotten, in Afghanistan, with India. Obamaco has been funneling more and more and more Indian presence into Kabul and it’s made the Pakistani’s nuts. That gets little play, but while the US is bringing in Indian elements, for “reconstruction” and trying to make India the biggest economic player in the reconstruction, Pakistan is giong to feel like they HAVE to have some kind of internal presence to offset that. No one like Mullen seems to bother mentioning that to Congress or the US press, but it is a big part of the problem. They feel as if India is getting a US protected presence to spy on them from Afghanistan and to form an allegiance wih Kabul that is contrary to Pakistan’s interests.

    BTW – I think what Pakistan was hinting at with the “operative” issue is that they may run a lot of assets, like the US (which used to be best chums with Haqqani the elder) and that might qualify them for “operative” status, but not necessarily for “member of ISI” status. So if the calls were to “at times ISI handled” assets, that would be different than if they were to members of ISI. fwiw I think Pak is fishing for what we do have and it will give them some insight into what to be on guard against in the future.

    Anyway – Obama wants to do something that makes him look big. Setting up “boots on the ground” in Pakistan as being some kind of heroic act is something that he would think would make him more loved by Republicans than there candidates and would make hims “look tough” to counteract the well won rap of being a non-leader who rolls to everything and everyone except the hands that feed him (which he is quite happy, Chihuahua like, to bite) And the Haqqani family is big – with bigger tribal affiliations – while the US public is uninformed.

    Pakistan has about triple the population of Iraq and Afghanistan combined. What could go wrong with yanking that tail? When you look at the aid issues, aid in the info from Switzerland on Pakistani bank accounts, and look at how we shafted Pakistan on their payment for planes Congress decided not to allow to be delivered after all – there’s a lot of stew simmering.

  8. Jim White says:

    @Mary: I agree that the India issue probably doesn’t get enough attention. Spencer does a good job of hitting it in the article I linked at 5.

    Interestingly, one short YouTube I watched from one of the Republican debates had Rick Perry fielding a question on Pakistan. He immediately said that our priority should be to make our alliance with India more public. Yeah, that’s gonna calm things down. Someone had linked to the snippet saying Perry totally fumbled the question and was clueless. I got more of an impression that he had some idea what he was talking about, and what he was talking about were moves that would make an already unstable situation downright explosive.

  9. EH says:

    I’m wondering if also the Uzbek negotiations for an alternate Afghani neighbor-friend haven’t gone as well as hoped.

  10. Nox Ninox says:

    @Jim White:

    Yeah, we really do need to wonder what kind of pot-stirring the ass-kissing little chickenshit is up to since he now has a new cloak of secrecy. Putting him in that job was such a “smart” move.

    Mandrake…do you recognize the sound of my voice?

  11. emptywheel says:

    @Mary: And don’t forget our idiocy on a Palestinian state, which the Saudis explicitly warned us would change our alliance with them. Congress is as we’re speaking cutting funding to the PLO, even as it for the first time in years has some kind of legitimacy in Palestine.

  12. MadDog says:

    @emptywheel: And don’t forget that the Saudis allowed Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to return to Yemen from his hospitalization in Saudi Arabia.

    The US is officially on record that they want Saleh to resign and turn over power as another flower in the Arab Spring.

    Had the Saudis not wanted Saleh to leave and turn over power, I’d bet they could have made it happen, so I’m guessing that just like Bahrain, the Saudis would rather keep the devil they know than get one they don’t know and wouldn’t like.

  13. Don Bacon says:

    two years ago:
    General McChrystal’s Report, Aug 30, 2009
    “Afghanistan’s insurgency is clearly supported from Pakistan. . .and are reportedly aided by some elements of Pakistan’s ISI”

    Adm. Mike Mullen’s assertion last week that an anti-American insurgent group in Afghanistan is a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s spy service was overstated.

    So while the people killing US troops are not a veritable arm of the ISI, they are supported by them. Mullen simply “overspoke.” Oh well, he’s getting short, hustle him offstage.

    So let’s get on with the war with Pakistan as an ally as Obama said they were in December 2009 even though Pakistan supports the US enemy, which he knew when he said it.

    Makes as much sense to me as does being there in the first place. It’s tough to explain to a family that just lost their twenty-year-old son, though.

  14. Don Bacon says:

    Pakistanis don’t like the US government (a feeling shared by many Americans).


    September 26 By Karin Brulliard, The Washington Post [Excerpts]

    ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Muhammad Irfan Malik is a banker, and he relies on numbers to tell the story of his daughter’s death. She was 17 years and 2 months old, a college student who had scored 800 out of 850 on high school graduation exams. On Oct. 20, 2009, she was with classmates in her university cafeteria when a bomber detonated explosives that launched 46 ball bearings into her body.

    She died 43 days later, leaving her family to suffer incalculable grief. But when casting blame, Malik turns to an equation that is common here — one that Pakistani officials often cite to explain why their country remains reluctant to fully confront Islamist militants despite acute pressure from the United States.

    Since 2001, when Islamabad partnered with Washington to combat the Taliban and al-Qaeda, there have been 335 suicide bombings in Pakistan. Before 2001, there was one.

  15. alabama says:

    The Haqqani keep getting described as a mafia hit team, a network of common criminals. The DOD peddles this sort of nonsense in their quest for yet another military adventure.

    Since we’re long past being shocked, let’s at least be amused. These are the Pathans who own the mountains, who’ve been fighting outsiders off and on for thousands of years, who are at least 15,000 strong, and who never lose fights. The Mafia would run out of the room if they ever met the “Haqqani”>.

  16. Kim Hanson says:

    This is just standard good cop bad cop, it sends a message to Pakistan, a message conveniently sent by a guy who is about to step down from the administration so that disavowing it, if deemed necessary, will not cause undo problems within the administration. Its typical Obama, no truth will be spoken by anyone with anything to lose, but truth can be spoken by those about to leave the administration…see Elizabeth Warren and countless others.

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