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US Lawmakers Question Pakistani Knowledge About Bin Laden's Hideout

Representative Peter King (file photo)

U.S. lawmakers are questioning how al-Qaida terrorist leader Osama bin Laden was able to live in a fortified compound in a Pakistani town for six years without some members of the Pakistani government, intelligence or military being aware of it. Some lawmakers are saying that the U.S. relationship with Pakistan is at a crossroads.

Central Intelligence Agency director Leon Panetta briefed members of Congress in a closed session Tuesday on the details of a Navy SEAL's raid that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden. After the briefing, House Homeland Security chairman Peter King, a Republican from New York, told reporters that the Obama administration and Congress need to re-evaluate Washington's relationship with Pakistan.

"In view of these issues of having bin Laden right near the military academy, right near an ISI [Pakistani intelligence service] headquarters, living in a very upscale area with many retired military and intelligence officials, it is very hard to believe that some elements of the Pakistani government, whether the military or intelligence, were not aware of this," King said.

Congressman King said the U.S. relationship with Pakistan has been rocky before, but has now reached a crossroads.

"This is obviously a very important relationship, but the relationship has changed, I think, as of Sunday. So this is going to be part of negotiations, part of meetings between the Pakistanis and the [Obama] administration, and the Congress," King added.

Other lawmakers were asking the same question about what the Pakistani government knew about bin Laden's hideout. At a previously scheduled Homeland Security Committee hearing Tuesday about threats to the United States emanating from Pakistan, Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California put it like this:

"Bin Laden was not found in a cave, his compound was less than two miles [three kilometers] away from an elite Pakistani army training academy. And we have to question how he was able to hide in plain sight for such a long period of time," Speier said.

Republican Congressman Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania asked if the fact that bin Laden was able to shelter there for six years indicates divided loyalty or complicity among some members of the Pakistan military or intelligence services.

One of the experts at the hearing, Seth Jones, the senior political scientist at the Rand Corporation, said that in the days right after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, Pakistani authorities made some high-profile arrests of al-Qaida leaders in urban areas, including the alleged mastermind of the attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. But he said such arrests have definitely tapered off in recent years.

"Whether there was complicity or incompetence, at the very least there has not been a high priority in targeting senior al-Qaida leaders in Pakistan," Jones said.

Some lawmakers asked if other top al-Qaida leaders may also be sheltering in Pakistan. The national security experts at the hearing agreed that the U.S.relationship with Pakistan is vital to both countries, and they said both need to be honest with each other going forward, at least behind closed doors.