Friday, September 23, 2011

The ISI and the Kabul Attacks


Pakistan's powerful intelligence agency communicated with Afghan insurgents who attacked the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters in central Kabul last week and appear to have provided them with equipment, according to U.S. military officers and former officials.

Communications gear used by the insurgents "implicated" the directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, Pakistan's spy service, a senior U.S. military official said Thursday. The equipment was found in a 14-story building under construction that the attackers used to lay siege to the embassy compound for 19 hours on Sept. 13, according to the official, who would not describe the equipment recovered.Bruce Riedel, a former White House advisor on Pakistan and a retired senior CIA official, said administration officials told him that "very firm intelligence" linked the Pakistani spy agency to the embassy attack, which killed at least nine Afghans.

"There are [communications] intercepts and the attackers were in cellphone contact back to Pakistan," he said.

In a dramatic appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, charged that the insurgents had received "ISI support" not only for the attack on America's most prominent diplomatic and military symbols in the Afghan capital, but also for a massive truck bomb assault this month on a U.S. combat outpost in Wardak province west of Kabul that wounded 77 U.S. soldiers.

Pakistan's government angrily denied any involvement. But Mullen's comments are the most direct, and most explosive, accusations by a senior U.S. official of direct complicity by Pakistan's chief intelligence agency in attacks on American facilities and military personnel.
Not any sort of surprise that they would deny it. Relations between the U.S. and Pakistan have been strained for a while, and this is likely to seal their fate.

It's almost certainly true, though, and it's difficult to say what it'll mean. Pakistan's a nuclear power, so any sort of direct action is impossible even if it weren't a bad idea, but the United States will have to do something to make it clear that the ISI cannot be allowed to continue supporting this sort of action.

What's likely, then, is that the American government will take this as a go-ahead for continued drone attacks in Pakistan on the Haqqani network that was behind this attack.  It keeps Americans out of harm's way, and they're insulated from Pakistani objections by the fact that the ISI is partially responsible for this in the first place. It won't solve the problem, but it's the only plausible action that presents itself.

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