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Gareth Porter: Bush Admin Ignored Warnings Against Pakistani Air Strikes

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In Pakistan, twenty-five people, including several women and children, are now reported to have been killed in Monday’s US drone attack on a compound in western Pakistan. A new article by investigative journalist Gareth Porter reveals that the Bush administration ignored warnings against such raids from the American intelligence community. They said that such raids could benefit the Taliban and destabilize the Pakistani military. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In Pakistan, twenty-five people, including several women and children, are now reported to have been killed in Monday’s US drone attack on a compound in western Pakistan. Three of those killed were commanders with al-Qaeda, according to reports from Al Jazeera.

In the third US missile attack on Pakistani territory since last week, US drones fired five missiles at a large compound belonging to one of Pakistan’s most prominent Taliban leaders, Jalaluddin Haqqani. Haqqani was the target of the attack but wasn’t present during the strike. In the ’80s, Haqqani had received tens of thousands of dollars from the CIA to fight the Soviet army in Afghanistan.

A new article by investigative journalist Gareth Porter reveals the Bush administration ignored warnings against such raids from the American intelligence community. The National Intelligence Council reportedly warned the Bush administration last month against launching raids inside Pakistan. They said such raids could benefit the Taliban and destabilize the Pakistani military.

Investigative journalist and historian Gareth Porter joins us now in Washington, D.C. Welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about these raids and what President Bush was warned about.

GARETH PORTER: Well, first of all, this is a major new escalation of US military involvement in the Middle East. It’s a new kind of war in a far more dangerous place than either Iraq or Afghanistan, in the following sense, that this is an area that is northwest — the North-West Frontier area of Pakistan, where the Pashtun population has been organized for several years now to oppose the US influence in that part of the world, to oppose the foreign presence in Afghanistan and to support the Taliban in Afghanistan. So what we’re up against there is a very strong political military organization, and it does have pretty strong support, from all the reports that we’ve been getting from that region.

And what the National Intelligence Council was reporting to the White House — and I’m told that this was an oral briefing to White House officials, presumably the President, although I wasn’t able to verify that specifically it was given to the President directly — what they said was that if these raids were to continue for any length of time, there is a very high risk that they would not only continue to anger the population in that area of the North-West Frontier — in this case, it was South Waziristan — but that it could, in fact, begin to tilt the balance within the so-called Frontier Corps — that is, the 80,000-strong militia of the area, that is recruited within the area, which the US military is trying to get the Pakistani government to agree to allow them to train and to buy off with cash — that it would tilt this Frontier Corps towards a more active and open commitment on behalf of the pro-Taliban Islamic forces in that region. And that would, of course, be a major shift and really contribute to the destabilization of Pakistan.

AMY GOODMAN: The significance of unmanned drones doing the attacks, the strikes?

GARETH PORTER: Well, the unmanned drones are one of the instruments that the US military and the CIA has been using in Pakistan to try to target the al-Qaeda and Taliban figures in the North-West Frontier area of Pakistan. The problem with the use of drones, of course, is the intelligence that the United States has on which to base the targeting.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean?

GARETH PORTER: And that problem of US intelligence is really a very serious one. The intelligence official who spoke with Eli Lake of the New York Sun this week was so disparaging of the intelligence that the US has in that part of Pakistan with regard to al-Qaeda and Taliban targets that he said the targeting thus far has been essentially shots in the dark. And, in fact, they’re talking about these ground raids by commandos of Special Operations Forces into Pakistan as being one way of trying to improve their intelligence. But given the political atmosphere in which they operate there, which is very strongly organized by the pro-Taliban forces, that seems to be a wildly optimistic ambition.

AMY GOODMAN: Gareth Porter, you also have written extensively in the last few weeks about Pervez Musharraf, after he resigned as Pakistan’s president, and talked about the close ties between Musharraf and the Bush administration, saying Bush buried Musharraf’s al-Qaeda links. Explain.

GARETH PORTER: Well, Musharraf, clearly, through the Pakistani military, was working very closely with the Taliban for many years in Afghanistan. And after 9/11, when the United States really put him on the spot and said, “You have to choose,” of course, he did make some concessions to the United States government with regard to cooperating with the US military effort in Afghanistan, but at the same time he continued to carry on a very close cooperation with the Taliban and through the Taliban or, even more directly, with al-Qaeda’s organization within Pakistan. There is no doubt now, and this is really being gradually coming out now on the part of the US government itself. They are pointing more and more to the links between the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate of the Pakistani military and the Taliban, particularly, and al-Qaeda, as well.

So we’re really in a situation there where the Pakistan — Pakistani military has felt that it was in its own interest to maintain a cooperative relationship with the Taliban in Afghanistan, as well as within Pakistan. And that has gone on now so long that really it’s far too late for the United States to hope to try to reverse it by any diplomatic or political pressures on Pakistan. And really, now, we’re confronted with a much more fundamental choice with regard to the situation in Pakistan, as well as in Afghanistan, and that is whether to continue to try to provoke greater anger and hostility within Pakistan by carrying out these rather effectless raids into Pakistan or to recognize that the more calm and wise course would be to rethink the entire Afghanistan debacle and really begin to think about some way of extracting ourselves from that unwinnable war.

AMY GOODMAN: If Barack Obama became president, do you think the policy would be any different? While he does talk about negotiations, he also has said that he endorsed unilateral strikes on Pakistan.

GARETH PORTER: Well, not only has he talked about unilateral strikes against Pakistan, but he appears to believe that the United States should indeed carry on a new war within Pakistan against the will of the Pakistani government. And this is why this is such a dangerous situation. The United States is really heading into a situation where it is very likely that at some point in the future, if these raids continue, we will indeed be finding ourselves fighting against the Pakistani military.

But what I did not say earlier, but what I would like to add, is that the National Intelligence Council, according to my source, also is afraid that continued raids in Pakistan would result in a beginning of defections from the Pakistani military’s Pashtun officer corps to the pro-Taliban side because of the increasing polarization which this is causing. And that, of course, would begin to threaten the unity of the Pakistani military and, in turn, to threaten the stability of the Pakistani regime in general.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you to stay on, Gareth Porter, as we turn now to the bombing of or the occupation of Iraq.

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