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Senators level new criticism at Pakistan for sheltering terrorists

By Charley Keyes, CNN Senior National Security Producer
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Pakistan gets billions of dollars of American aid
  • But U.S. military leaders and officials say it also provides safe haven for terrorists
  • "Something's got to give, something's got to change," says Sen. Levin

Washington (CNN) -- U.S. senators didn't miss a chance Tuesday to voice frustration with Pakistan over how it takes billions of dollars of American aid while providing safe havens to terrorists to build bombs and launch cross-border attacks on U.S.troops in Afghanistan.

"Well, something's got to give, something's got to change," Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, said at a hearing. "Because it just can't continue this way, for them to expect that we're going to have a normal relationship with them -- which we all hope for."

And Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, also was critical of Pakistan; specifically, whether the top Taliban leader and al Qaeda ally Mullah Omar was hiding there.

"Is Mullah Omar in Pakistan?" Graham asked Vice Adm.William McRaven, who supervised the raid on the Osama bin Laden compound In Pakistan that ended with the death of al Qaeda leader.

"Sir, we believe he is," McRaven replied.

The hearing was the next step toward Senate approval of President Barack Obama's decision to promote McRaven to become commander of the U.S. Special Forces Command.

Graham nudged McRaven along. "Do we believe he is there is with the knowledge of the ISI (Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate) and the upper echelon of the (Pakistani) army?" asked Graham.

"Sir, I believe the Pakistanis know he is in Pakistan," McRaven said.

"Let me ask you this -- If they tried for about a week do you think they could then find him?" said Graham.

"I can't answer that because i don't know whether they could or not because i don't know exactly where Mullah Omar is," answered McRaven, who said he believed the United States. has asked Pakistan to find the Taliban leader.

"Well, I'm asking," said Graham. "I think Sen. Levin and I will both ask together today."

And the ranking Republican on the committee, Sen.John McCain, R-Arizona, praised McRaven and his un-named fellow special operators for their success against bin Laden. "The leader of al Qaida is dead, but a new one has taken his place," McCain said. "Your mission will be to help ensure he meets the same end."

McCain used the hearing to voice again his strong criticism of President Obama's troop drawdown timetable for Afghanistan.

"I'm very concerned that the president's decision poses an unnecessary risk to the progress we've made thus far, to our mission, and to our men and women in uniform," McCain warned

Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John Allen -- poised to take over from Army Gen. David Petraeus as commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan -- promised McCain and the other senators he would closely monitor the withdrawal plan and give candid advice where he saw fit.

"If confirmed, I will offer my candid assessment to the chain of command on the current state of the conflict, as well as provide options with respect to the president's goals in accomplishing this strategy," Allen said.

Last week Petraeus and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen said the president had chosen a more aggressive withdrawal timetable than they had expected.

McCain grilled Allen on support for the White House plan.

"Gen. Allen, do you know of any military leader that recommended in 2009 that the president make an announcement in 2011 of drawdown of troops?" McCain asked.

"I do not, senator," Allen replied.

"Do you know of any military leader that recommended the drawdown plan that the president announced last week?" McCain asked.

"I do not, senator," Allen answered.

And the general said planning already was underway on how to implement the president's plan to withdraw 10,000 troops this year, starting next month, and an additional 23,000 by next summer.

The hearing shed new light on U.S. concerns that al Qaeda and the Taliban are assembling explosives in Pakistan and then planting them in Afghanistan to kill Americans.

McRaven said he was certain IEDs -- improvised explosive devices such as roadside bombs -- used against Americans and coalition troops are coming out of Pakistan and that information about where the bombs are being assembled has been provided to Pakistani authorities.

"Have they (the Pakistanis) responded effectively?" asked Graham.

"They have not, sir," McRaven replied.

 
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