Pakistan denies deal allowing US to hunt bin Laden
Pakistan flatly denied on Monday a report that it had struck a deal to allow U.S. troops to hunt for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on its territory.
"This report has no truth in it and there is no such deal," military spokesman Major-General Shaukat Sultan said.
The latest issue of the New Yorker weekly said thousands of U.S. troops would be deployed in a tribal area bordering Afghanistan in return for Washington's support for Islamabad's pardon last month of Abdul Qadeer Khan, a scientist who admitted leaking nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea.
The article quoted a former senior intelligence official as saying it was "a quid pro quo" deal with Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf. "We're going to get our troops inside Pakistan in return for not forcing Musharraf to deal with Khan."
Sultan rejected this, saying: "There are no quid pro quos on issues of national sovereignty. We totally deny it."
He said he could not comment on reports that the United States planned to shift an elite commando unit that took part in the capture of Saddam Hussein in Iraq to hunt for bin Laden.
"If the U.S. is shifting a special unit from Iraq into Afghanistan, I have no comment on that, but there is none coming in to Pakistan," he said.
After the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, Pakistan became a key ally in the U.S.-led war on terror and has arrested hundreds of al Qaeda suspects. But it says it will never allow foreign troops to hunt for militants on its soil.
U.S. forces hunting al Qaeda and Taliban suspects in Afghanistan have expressed frustration about the ability of militants to elude them by slipping across the Pakistani side of the rugged border region and urged Pakistan to do more to help.
PAKISTAN DEPLOYS TROOPS
Pakistan says it has deployed tens of thousands of troops along its border with Afghanistan to prevent such movements.
Last week it said it detained 20 suspects in the South Waziristan tribal region, but none was a key al Qaeda figure.
On Saturday Pakistani troops killed at least 11 people they thought were militants when they opened fire on a van in the region. An intelligence official said those killed might not have been militants and the incident was a case of "mistaken fire."
Residents say fiercely independent tribesmen already sympathetic to al Qaeda have been angered by the deaths and civilian killings will not make the Pakistani task easier.
The New York Times on Saturday quoted senior U.S. administration and military officials as saying U.S. President Bush had approved a plan to intensify the effort against bin Laden.
It said the plan would apply new forces and tactics to the hunt and take advantage of better intelligence and improving weather along the Afghan-Pakistan border.
The report said the main force in the new effort was Task Force 121, a covert commando team of Special Operations forces and CIA officers involved in capturing Saddam in December. It said the force was gradually shifting resources to Afghanistan.
The report added that as part of the new tactics U.S. forces already in Afghanistan would shift focus from conducting raids and returning to base to deploying small groups to villages for days at a time in the hope of improving intelligence gathering.