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Drives Outline Military Tactics

Computer devices sold at an Afghan bazaar appear to hold data showing how insurgents use Pakistan as a base for cross-border strikes.

April 14, 2006|Paul Watson | Times Staff Writer

BAGRAM, Afghanistan — Maps, charts and intelligence reports on computer drives smuggled out of a U.S. base and sold at a bazaar here appear to detail how Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders have been using southwestern Pakistan as a key planning and training base for attacks in Afghanistan.

The documents, marked "secret," appear to be raw intelligence reports based on conversations with Afghan informants and official briefings given to high-level U.S. military officers. Together, they outline how the U.S. military came to focus its search for members of Taliban, Al Qaeda and other militant groups on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border.

In one report contained in a flash memory drive, a U.S. handler also indicates that the United States discussed with two Afghan spies the possibility of capturing or killing Taliban commanders in Pakistani territory.

Pakistan has long denied harboring Taliban leaders or training bases and has engaged in several well-publicized battles with insurgents in its tribal territories bordering Afghanistan.

But the documents contained on memory drives sold at a bazaar in front of the main gate of the Bagram air base suggest that although Pakistani forces are working to root out foreign Al Qaeda fighters from the northwestern tribal regions, the Taliban has been using Quetta, the provincial capital of Baluchistan in the southwest, as its rear guard for training and coordinating attacks, some by foreign Arab fighters, in Afghanistan.

The theft of the drives became the subject of a full-scale criminal investigation Wednesday, two days after the Los Angeles Times revealed the black-market operation.

The contents of the flash drives appear to be authentic documents, but the accuracy of the information could not be independently verified.

Military officials, however, acknowledged Thursday that the sale of the stolen drives posed a security risk.

"Obviously you have uncovered something that is not good for U.S. forces here in Afghanistan," said Col. Tom Collins, speaking from the public affairs office at the Bagram base. "We're obviously concerned that certain sources or assets have been compromised."

In Washington, Lawrence Di Rita, a top aide to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, said it was "too early to say" whether any commander in Afghanistan would be held responsible for failing to secure the drives.

The drives appear to contain the identities of Afghan sources spying for U.S. Special Forces that operate out of the Bagram base, which is the center of U.S. efforts to fight Taliban and Al Qaeda insurgents and includes a secretive detention and interrogation center for terrorism suspects flown in from around the world.

The memory drives also apparently include the identities of U.S. military personnel working in Afghanistan, assessments of targets, descriptions of American bases and their defenses, and maneuvers by the U.S. to remove or marginalize Afghan government officials it considers a problem.

Pakistani officials rejected the reputed intelligence Thursday. Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan, spokesman for Pakistan's armed forces, said the military promptly checks out information on insurgent activities that it receives from the U.S.-led coalition and that the intelligence sometimes proves incorrect.

"To make a sweeping statement like this, that people are taken to Pakistan to training camps and then brought back [to Afghanistan], is absolutely absurd, and I reject this information," Sultan said from Islamabad, the Pakistani capital.

U.S. intelligence and counter-terrorism officials have long been concerned about liaisons between Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agents and the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The counter-terrorism officials have compiled intelligence alleging that ISI officials were looking the other way, or possibly aiding, as Al Qaeda and Taliban members plotted militant activity in the tribal territories of Pakistan.

The concerns were disclosed publicly in a report to Congress last year by its independent research arm, the Congressional Research Service, which questioned whether Pakistan "is fully committed to fighting the war against terrorism."

"Among the most serious sources of concern is the well-documented past involvement of some members of the Army's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) organization with Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and the possibility that some officers retain sympathies with both groups," the report said.

On the drives from the bazaar, reports from Afghan informants, marked "secret," outline efforts by U.S. Special Forces in the fall of 2005 to locate and target Taliban insurgents inside Pakistani territory. The focus fell on top Taliban leaders who informants said had been residing in Quetta and facilitating kidnapping and bombing missions around the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.

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