ISLAMABAD (AFP) – CIA chief Leon Panetta held talks with top Pakistani military and intelligence officials and discussed ways to strengthen future intelligence sharing, the Pakistani military said.
The talks were held Friday amid a crisis in relations after the unilateral US raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
The difficult relationship between the two countries — allies in the “war on terror” — has come under severe strain since US commandos swooped on the Al-Qaeda chief’s compound in the city of Abbottabad, home to a military academy.
Panetta’s visit to Islamabad came as the United States said it had nearly completed a drawdown in military personnel from Pakistan as demanded by Islamabad after relations plummeted over the May 2 killing of bin Laden.
Panetta called on army chief General Ashfaq Kayani. “Both sides discussed the framework for future intelligence sharing,” the military said in a statement late on Friday after the meeting.
The CIA chief also discussed the security situation with Kayani and Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the director general of Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, according a Pakistani security official.
The official confirmed that issues arising from the bin Laden operation, which was carried out without informing Islamabad, were also discussed.
A spokesman from the US embassy in Islamabad declined to comment.
The raid sent shockwaves through Pakistan’s seemingly powerful security establishment, with its intelligence services widely accused of incompetence or complicity over the presence of bin Laden close to a military academy.
Vice Admiral Michael LeFever, US defence representative in Pakistan, made the announcement about the troop drawdown in a statement released by the embassy, but left the door open to future security assistance.
“We recently received a written request from the government of Pakistan to reduce the number of US military personnel here and we have nearly completed that reduction,” said LeFever.
The United States confirmed on May 25 that it had begun pulling some American troops out of Pakistan after the Pakistani military asked for a scaling back.
Most of the US personnel are special forces that train and advise Pakistani troops as part of a long-running effort to counter Al-Qaeda and other Islamist militants, who are concentrated largely in the northwest on the Afghan border.
The withdrawal underscored the crisis between Washington and Islamabad in the aftermath of the bin Laden raid, despite US diplomatic efforts to smooth over tensions.
Pakistan faces mounting American pressure to open a ground offensive against insurgents in its lawless tribal region.
The Washington Post reported Friday that US intelligence officials had twice handed Islamabad tips about insurgent bomb-making factories in the area, only to find them abandoned before Pakistani troops arrived.
The vacated factories in North and South Waziristan have led US officials to question whether the information had been mistakenly leaked in recent weeks or whether the insurgents had been directly warned by the ISI, the report said.
Washington has called the semi-autonomous region the most dangerous place on Earth and the global headquarters of Al-Qaeda, where Taliban and other Al-Qaeda-linked networks have carved out strongholds.