By Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr
The United States believes that the leaders of Pakistan's intelligence services are directly supporting the Haqqani terrorist network, which has increased its attacks against U.S. troops and other targets in Afghanistan, a U.S. military official told CNN Friday.
The accusation goes even further than declarations this week by U.S. officials like Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence provided support for the Haqqani network in its attack last week in Kabul against the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters.
Until now American officials, when asked, generally indicated that it is only elements of the Pakistani intelligence service that are involved in supporting terrorism.
But the official told CNN, "I am not caveating this. We believe this support goes right to the top of the ISI."
CIA Director David Petraeus met this week with Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, chief of the ISI, to warn him against supporting the Haqqanis.
"We have credible intelligence obtained through a series of methods that directly implicate the ISI" in having "knowledge or support" for Haqqani activities, the official told CNN. "The ISI is providing financing, safe haven, advice and guidance" to the Haqqanis.
He noted the ISI uses retired senior officers as proxies in some cases, but he was adamant the latest intelligence shows support from the highest level of current serving ISI personnel.
On Thursday, Mullen minced few words in accusing the intelligence service of supporting terrorists responsible for recent attacks, and more broadly, the Pakistani government of supporting terrorism.
"In many ways ... the support of terrorism is part of their national strategy to protect their own vital interests," Mullen told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "In choosing to use violent extremism as an instrument of policy, the government of Pakistan, and most especially the Pakistani Army and ISI, jeopardizes not only the prospect of our strategic partnership, but Pakistan's opportunity to be a respected nation with legitimate, regional influence."
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta repeatedly this week has said the Haqqani attacks, which are often against U.S. troops in Afghanistan are cannot be tolerated.
Pakistan officials denied the claims.
"I'm completely denying that our intelligence or our military service would be helping them," Pakistan's foreign minister said in an interview on CNN's "Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer."
A statement from the Pakistani military said the Mullen accusations were "not based on facts" and said the head of the military, Chief of Army Staff
Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was "categorically denying the accusations of proxy war and ISI support to Haqqanis."
The spate of public U.S. criticism this week is a "manifestation of our frustration" with Pakistan's failure to act, the U.S. military official said.
American officials have been careful so far not to spell out what military action, if any, the United States would take against the Haqqani network inside Pakistan, but CNN reported earlier this week that the CIA has conducted drone strikes in Pakistan aimed at Haqqani network members.