/ 12 June 2009

CIA says Bin Laden still in Pakistan

The CIA believes Osama bin Laden is still in Pakistan, and the spy agency is hoping to close in on him as that country’s military cracks down on the north-western tribal area where he is thought to
be hiding.

CIA director Leon Panetta told reporters after a speech in Congress on Thursday that finding bin Laden remains one of the CIA’s top priorities.

”I guess one of our hopes is that as Pakistani military moves in, combined with our operations, we may have a better chance to get at him,” Panetta said.

The CIA has increased the number of officers and recruited agents, or locals who provide information, in Pakistan, Panetta said.

”We have a number of people who are on the ground in Pakistan who are helping us provide targets and who are helping us provide the information that we really need to go after al-Qaeda,” he said.

In Islamabad, a spokesperson for President Asif Ai Zardari rejected Panetta’s claim and challenged the CIA to hand over any evidence it has to back it up.

”There is no truth in this CIA statement. These are all rumours,” presidential spokesperson Farhatullah Babar told the Associated Press.

”Such statements keep coming, but if they know he is in Pakistan, then they should also know his exact location, and if they do, the why don’t they share it with Pakistan?” Babar said, referring to bin Laden.

Panetta, meanwhile, said the Pakistani offensive in the Swat Valley is making very good progress compared to Pakistan’s past efforts to crack down on extremists. The Pakistan military says it has killed more than 1 300 militants during the offensive and reclaimed most of the region.

Past offensives against Islamist militants often faltered, with the government choosing to strike peace agreements with the extremists. A peace deal in Swat collapsed in April after the Taliban advanced from there into nearby Buner, just 96km from the capital, Islamabad.

Panetta said the CIA is mindful that as it makes progress in Pakistan, al-Qaeda leaders could transfer their sights to safe havens elsewhere, such as Yemen and Somalia, which have large ungoverned territories. – Sapa-AP