Pakistan tells CIA chief it sticks to U.S. troop cuts

ISLAMABAD Sat Jun 11, 2011 5:00pm EDT

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Leon Panetta listens to questions as he testifies at his Senate confirmation hearing to become the U.S. Secretary of Defense on Capitol Hill, Washington June 9, 2011. REUTERS/Jim Young

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Leon Panetta listens to questions as he testifies at his Senate confirmation hearing to become the U.S. Secretary of Defense on Capitol Hill, Washington June 9, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Jim Young

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan's army and intelligence chiefs told CIA Director Leon Panetta they were not willing to reverse a decision to cut the number of U.S. troops allowed in Pakistan, Pakistani military officials said on Saturday.

Panetta, nominated to take over as defense secretary next month, arrived in Pakistan on Friday on an unannounced visit, his first trip since a secret U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden and severely damaged ties between the allies.

Pakistan's army said on Thursday it had drastically cut down the number of U.S. troops allowed in the country and set clear limits on intelligence sharing with the United States.

"He (Panetta) expressed concerns over the reduction of trainers and operatives. We told him very clearly 'no boots on our soil is acceptable'," said a Pakistani military official.

Panetta held talks with army chief General Ashfaq Kayani and Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, head of military intelligence.

U.S. officials have confirmed that Pakistan is severely cutting back the presence of American military personnel and intelligence agents but some are still expected by officials in Washington to remain in the country.

The Pakistani military said in a statement: "Both sides discussed the framework for future intelligence sharing." A U.S. embassy spokesman said he had no information on Panetta's talks.

The United States kept Islamabad in the dark about the May 2 raid by Navy SEALs until after it was over, humiliating Pakistan's armed forces and putting U.S. military and intelligence ties under serious strain.

"We told him (Panetta) that we are clear. We don't want their people. Intelligence sharing is fine and we are ready for that," said another military official.

The United States has reduced the number of military personnel in Pakistan, the embassy has said.

Washington was angered by the fact that bin Laden had apparently been living for years in a Pakistani town about a two-hour drive from the intelligence headquarters.

The CIA has stepped up remotely piloted drone aircraft missile strikes against militant targets in northwest Pakistan since bin Laden's death.

Relations between American and Pakistani intelligence agencies are often hampered by mistrust.

Pakistan is often accused of playing a "double game," vowing to help the United States fight militant groups while supporting some of them, an allegation it denies.

The United States gave Pakistan the locations of militant bomb-making factories last month, a U.S. official said. The sites were later abandoned, suggesting there had been a tip-off.

Panetta raised the issue in his talks with Pakistan's army and intelligence chiefs, said the U.S. official.

Gaining intelligence on the ground in Pakistan, where some militant groups have close ties to the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda, is critical for U.S. efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.

"There will be active intelligence sharing on both sides but there will be no American boots on our territory," a third Pakistani military official said, describing the message Panetta received on his trip.

"Any action against the militants will be taken by our forces alone but we will share intelligence on militants actively."

The United States believes the nearly decade-old war effort in neighboring Afghanistan cannot succeed unless Pakistan tackles insurgent safe havens near the border.

Pakistan pledged on Saturday during a visit by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to help Afghanistan end the insurgency.

(Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball in London; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Louise Ireland)