FBI and military unite in search for al-Qaida

U.S. forces' cooperation at its highest in Pakistan

July 14, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - U.S. law enforcement agencies have been working in tandem with the U.S. military in Pakistan in an unusual and sustained effort to hunt down fighters with al-Qaida who fled their sanctuaries in Afghanistan and are struggling to revive their group.

In Pakistani cities, agents of the FBI are helping the local police and providing information - in rare instances even personnel - to break up what senior U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials regard as a depleted but dangerous network. In recent weeks, they say, it has carried out deadly attacks against Westerners in Karachi and Islamabad.

In the barren terrain along the Afghan border, elite U.S. soldiers are using intelligence sent from U.S. reconnaissance units in Afghanistan and high-tech surveillance overhead to track al-Qaida fighters crossing into Pakistan.

Never before have the traditionally independent military and law enforcement organizations worked so much in concert, sharing information and expertise as al-Qaida tries to reconstitute itself in Pakistan. The cooperation goes far beyond joint efforts in the past to fight the flow of drugs.

Pakistan has become a laboratory for how U.S. power could be used to combat terror. Similar, if smaller, U.S. operations appear to be unfolding in the Philippines and Yemen, where the FBI continues its investigation of the attack in October 2000 on the Navy destroyer Cole.

The deployment, which includes intelligence officers in Pakistan, marks a shift in the Bush administration's anti-terror strategy. The new approach is driven by the recognition that after the U.S. military successes in Afghanistan, al-Qaida fighters have shifted east, first into the tribal areas of Pakistan, and then into its cities.

Al-Qaida's movement presents U.S. leaders with new problems, as these terrorists reach out to like-minded Pakistani militants and make extensive use of the Internet and cell phones in densely populated urban areas.

A glimpse into the future came last month, when a Pakistani group, apparently financed by al-Qaida, carried out a deadly attack outside the U.S. Consulate in Karachi.

"If you don't do anything, you risk simply allowing al-Qaida to replicate the platform they had in Afghanistan," said a senior U.S. government official, explaining the coordinated effort in Pakistan.

U.S. agents in Pakistan and elsewhere are treading softly, for fear of infuriating local populations and undercutting shaky governments such as that of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's leader.

The FBI's role in Pakistan reflects the bureau's determination to redefine its mission from one of investigating crimes to one of thwarting terrorist attacks planned outside the United States.

The new strategy's biggest prize is Abu Zubaydah, who was shot and captured as he fled across a rooftop in the central Pakistani city of Faisalabad last March. U.S. law enforcement agents played a significant role in the raid that captured Abu Zubaydah, believed to be al-Qaida's field commander; he has since provided U.S. officials with intelligence on al-Qaida's activities.

Despite protests and tensions, the strategy has shown signs of success. In Karachi and Lahore, Pakistani agents, often with Americans in a coordinating role, have detained more than 70 suspected members of al-Qaida and other militant groups.

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