Key senators on Monday said the Pakistani government needs to explain whether it knew anything regarding the location of Osama bin Laden, who was shot and killed on Sunday.
But they also indicated the death of bin Laden has not changed their minds when it comes to U.S. operations in Afghanistan.
Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said bin Laden’s death reinforces what he expects will be a “robust” reduction by July in the size of the U.S. force deployed to Afghanistan. Levin has long supported the White House’s July 2011 goal to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and has said those reductions should be significant, but he would not quantify Monday how many U.S. troops should remain in Afghanistan after this summer.
But Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., cautioned against a hasty withdrawal.
“I’ve already heard a few calls that we quickly withdraw from Afghanistan because the war is over and because bin Laden is dead,” Lieberman said.
“I wish we could say that, but if we did that, we would repeat a mistake that we’ve made once before when we pulled out of Afghanistan and that region after the Soviets did, and that invited ultimately the Taliban and al-Qaida into Afghanistan, and from Afghanistan they attacked us on 9/11.”
Lawmakers said they were skeptical that bin Laden could have been living in a compound—where he was killed—near Islamabad without the knowledge and support of some elements of the Pakistani government. U.S. officials have long been concerned that Pakistan’s intelligence service supports terrorist groups.
“I think this tells us once again that, unfortunately, Pakistan at times is playing a double game, and that’s very troubling to me,” said Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine. “We clearly need to keep the pressure on Pakistan, and one way to do that is to put more strings attached to the tremendous amount of military aid that we give the country.”
And on Afghanistan, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., called for blocking $3 billion in aid that the U.S. plans to give Pakistan in 2012 “unless questions are answered.”
“Before we send another dime, we need to know whether Pakistan truly stands with us in the fight against terrorism,” Lautenberg said. Collins and Lautenberg serve on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
U.S. officials deliberately withheld information about Sunday’s raid on bin Laden’s compound from the Pakistani government out of fears it would be compromised.
“This was a unilateral U.S. operation,” said a U.S. government official who asked to remain anonymous. “I think our focus was on operational security and ensuring this could be done with success and without interruption.”
White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said the Obama administration is “going to pursue all leads to find out exactly what type of support system and benefactors that bin Laden might have had” inside Pakistan. He said it was too early to be certain.
Levin, whose committee will be briefed privately by special operations officials on Tuesday, said it is “almost impossible to concede” that Pakistan’s military and intelligence officials did not know of the presence of the unusual compound.
Levin pointed to the compound’s large size and the fact that it surrounded by high walls topped with barbed wire. It was so cut off from the outside world that it even contained a trash-burning facility.
Levin said he wants those questions answered before he can take a stance on future U.S. aid to Pakistan.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee plans to begin a series of hearings this week reviewing U.S. policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan.
This article appears in the May 3, 2011 edition of NJ Daily.