US, Pak set up joint team to hunt down top militants

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Washington, Jun 2: The US and Pakistan are building a joint intelligence team to go after top terrorist suspects inside Pakistan. The US and Pakistani officials said, a fledgling step to restoring trust blown on both sides by the killing of Osama bin Laden by US forces during a secret raid last month.

The move comes after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton presented the Pakistanis with the US list of most-wanted terrorism targets, US and Pakistani officials said on Wednesday, June 1.

The investigative team will be made up mainly of intelligence officers from both nations, according to two US and one Pakistani official.

It would draw in part on any intelligence emerging from the CIA's analysis of computer and written files gathered by the Navy SEALs who raided bin Laden's hideout in Abbottabad, as well as Pakistani intelligence gleaned from interrogations of those who frequented or lived near the bin Laden compound, the officials said.

The formation of the team marks a return to the counterterrorism cooperation that has led to major takedowns of al-Qaida militants, like the joint arrest of Khaled Sheikh Mohammed in 2003. All those interviewed spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss matters of intelligence.

The US and Pakistan have engaged in a diplomatic stare-down since the May 2 raid, with the Pakistanis outraged over the unilateral action as an affront to its sovereignty, and the Americans angry to find that bin Laden had been hiding for more than five years in a military town just 35 miles from the capital Islamabad. 

The US deliberately hid the operation from Pakistan, recipient of billions in counterterrorism aid, for fear that the operation would leak to militants.

A series of high-level US visits has aimed to take the edge off Marc Grossman, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan and CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell met with intelligence chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha last month.

Last week, the secretary of state and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Adm. Mike Mullen, held a day of intensive meetings with top Pakistani military and civilian officials.

Among the confidence-building measures was a visit by the CIA to re-examine the bin Laden compound last Friday.

Pakistan also returned the tail section of the US stealth Blackhawk helicopter that broke off when the SEALs blew up the aircraft to destroy its secret noise- and radar-deadening technology.

The CIA has also shared some information gleaned from the raid, and Pakistan has reciprocated, U.S. and Pakistani officials said.

The joint intelligence team will go after five top targets, including al-Qaida No 3 Ayman al-Zawahri, and al-Qaida operations chief Atiya Abdel Rahman, as well as Taliban leader like Mullah Omar, all of whom US intelligence officials believe are hiding in Pakistan, one US official said.

Another target is Siraq Haqqani, leader of the Haqqani tribe in Pakistan's lawless tribal areas. Allied with the Taliban and al-Qaida, the Haqqanis are behind some of the deadliest attacks against US troops and Afghan civilians in Afghanistan.


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