ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan’s army, facing rare criticism at home after U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden in a raid, said it will review its intelligence and military cooperation with the United States if more unilateral attacks are conducted.
It was the first comment from the army since the May 2 attack that killed bin Laden.
While Pakistan has objected to the raid as a violation of its sovereignty while suspicion that some Pakistani security forces might have known bin Laden was hiding in the country has also threatened to strain ties between the uneasy allies.
Pakistan has denied any knowledge of the al Qaeda leader’s whereabouts and the army said it would conduct an investigation into failures by its intelligence to detect the world’s most wanted man on its own soil.
“COAS made it clear that any similar action violating the sovereignty of Pakistan will warrant a review on the level of military/intelligence cooperation with the United States,” the army said in a statement, referring to the Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Kayani.
Pakistani cooperation is seen as crucial for efforts to end the war in neighboring Afghanistan.
The army also warned it would respond “very strongly” if its old rival India carried out any “misadventure”, saying: “There should be no doubt about it.”
The Pakistan army, which has long been seen as the most effective institution in an unstable country, has been facing growing domestic criticism over the perceived violation of country’s sovereignty when U.S. forces conducted raid without informing Pakistan.
U.S. special forces swooped in on helicopters to attack a compound in Abbottabad, 50 km (30 miles) north of the capital, Islamabad, and kill bin Laden and several others.
The Pakistani government said bin Laden’s death was a milestone in the fight against militancy but two Pakistani security officials, who declined to be identified, said the al Qaeda leader and his comrades offered no resistance.
One of the officials said their killing was “cold-blooded”.
Pakistan is facing growing international pressure to explain how was it possible for bin Laden to live in a compound in a garrison town close to the military’s main academy.
Western as well as Indian and Afghan officials have accused Pakistan’s main Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency of maintaining links with militants for use as proxy fighters against India, and to maintain influence in Afghanistan once foreign troops leave that country.
The military said there had been intelligence failures over the presence of bin Laden but it praised the ISI’s role in combating al Qaeda and its allies.
“While admitting own shortcomings in developing intelligence on the presence of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan, it was highlighted that the achievements of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), against al Qaeda and its terrorist affiliates in Pakistan, have no parallel,” the army said after a meeting of commanders.
The army said about 100 top-level al Qaeda leaders and operators had been killed or arrested by the ISI, with or without support of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
“However, in the case of Osama Bin Laden, while CIA developed intelligence based on initial information (about the compound) provided by the ISI, it did not share further development of intelligence on the case with the ISI, contrary to the existing practice between the two services.”
“Nonetheless, an investigation has been ordered into the circumstances that led to this situation,” it said.
The military commanders were told that Pakistan had decided to reduce the strength of U.S. military personnel in the country to the “minimum essential”.
The top brass also ruled out the possibility of similar attacks on the country’s nuclear facilities.
“Unlike an undefended civilian compound, our strategic assets are well protected and an elaborate defensive mechanism is in place,” the army said.
While few in Pakistan supported bin Laden and his ideology, violations of sovereignty can provoke street protests and media outrage.
One of Pakistan’s main Islamic parties called for protests on Friday against what it said was breach of sovereignty, and urged the government to withdraw its support for the U.S.-led war on al Qaeda and it allies.
Following the unusual criticism of the army, which has ruled Pakistan for more than half the 64 years since its independence, the military’s remarks appeared aimed at reassuring Pakistanis that it was capable of defending the country.
“The (commanders) reiterated the resolve to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Pakistan to fight the menace of terrorism, with the support and help of the people of Pakistan,” the army said.
Additional reporting by Saeed Azhar; Editing by Rebecca Conway, Chris Allbritton and Robert Birsel