WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States repeatedly told Pakistan that Washington would send American forces into that country if it had evidence that Osama bin Laden was hiding there, according to current and former U.S. officials.
The message that the United States would not hesitate to send American operatives into Pakistan to get bin Laden was transmitted to top Pakistani officials on multiple occasions by the administrations of Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, said a U.S. national security official who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive information.
A former senior U.S. counter-terrorism official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was an “understanding” between Washington and Islamabad that amounted to an acknowledgment by Pakistani authorities that the United States would take unilateral action on Pakistani soil if it had intelligence on the al Qaeda leader’s whereabouts.
The current U.S. official said the message that the United States would dispatch forces to go after bin Laden if it found him in Pakistan was repeatedly passed on to Pakistani authorities so that, at a minimum, Islamabad should have had no illusions about the U.S. position.
The already-strained relations between Pakistan and the United States became even more tense following the U.S. commando raid this month that killed bin Laden at a compound near Pakistan’s principal military academy.
On Monday, Britain’s Guardian newspaper, in a report from Islamabad, said the United States and Pakistan nearly a decade ago “struck a secret deal” in which Pakistan would allow American forces to conduct a raid inside Pakistan in search of bin Laden, his deputy or al Qaeda operational commanders.
The Guardian said that as part of the agreement Pakistan would vociferously protest in public any such U.S. incursion. The newspaper said the pact was struck between Bush and General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s military leader at the time.
Dawn, a leading Pakistani newspaper, quoted a spokesman for Musharraf as saying the former leader denied striking any agreement with the United States regarding operations to capture or kill bin Laden.
Musharraf spokesman Fawad Chaudhry told the newspaper that claims of such a deal were baseless and no written or verbal agreement existed between Bush and Musharraf about what the United States would do if it found bin Laden in Pakistan.
The former U.S. official said that while he believed Pakistan was well aware of U.S. intentions, to his knowledge whatever understanding was reached between Washington and Islamabad was never put in writing.
Editing by Will Dunham