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CIA chief on first trip to Pakistan post-bin Laden

CIA Director Panetta waits to testify during his Senate confirmation hearings to become U.S. Secretary of Defense on Capitol Hill
CIA Director Panetta waits to testify during his Senate confirmation hearings to become U.S. Secretary of Defense on Capitol Hill

By Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - CIA Director Leon Panetta arrived in Pakistan on Friday on an unannounced visit, a U.S. official said, in his first trip to Islamabad since last month's secret raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

Panetta, nominated to take over as defense secretary next month, planned to "reiterate the message of the U.S. intention to continue to cooperate with Pakistan," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The outgoing CIA chief was blunt with Congress in testimony on Thursday about the difficulties between two uneasy allies, whose relationship was further strained by the May 2 raid that killed the al Qaeda leader at his compound in Abbottabad, 30 miles northwest of Islamabad.

The United States kept Islamabad in the dark about the raid by Navy SEALs until after it was over, humiliating Pakistan's armed forces and putting U.S. military and intelligence ties under serious strain.

"There are some areas where, frankly, we have good discussions. ... But there are a number of areas where, frankly, we don't have that level of trust or communication capability," Panetta told lawmakers.

In another sign of the deep tensions, Pakistan's army said on Thursday it had drastically cut down on the number of U.S. troops allowed in the country and set clear limits on intelligence sharing with the United States.

Pakistan army chief General Ashfaq Kayani also called for the billions of dollars in U.S. military aid to be diverted into helping the economy.

DOUBLE GAME?

The United States believes the nearly decade-old war effort in neighboring Afghanistan cannot succeed unless Pakistan tackles insurgent safe havens near the border. On Friday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai arrived in Islamabad seeking Pakistan's help to end the Taliban insurgency.

Pakistan, which backed the Taliban government that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until its ouster in 2001 by U.S.-backed forces, will be crucial to any attempts to stabilize its western neighbor.

But Pakistan has often been accused of playing a "double game," promising the United States it will go after militants, while supporting some of them, an allegation it denies.

U.S. commanders say the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan is being undermined partly by Pakistan-based militants like the Haqqani network.

The Haqqanis use safe havens in Pakistan's North Waziristan region to stage cross-border attacks against American troops in Afghanistan, and U.S. officials have accused Pakistani intelligence of ties to the group.

Panetta said he saw a "simple test" over Pakistan's commitment to tackling the Haqqanis, "which is whether or not the Haqqanis are continuing to go into Afghanistan and attacking our forces," he said.

"It seems to me that if they have an influence over the Haqqanis, that they could urge them to cease fire and to stop those kinds of attacks," he told lawmakers on Thursday.

(Editing by Peter Cooney)

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