President Barack Obama lauded Pakistan as a “strong counterterrorism partner” with the United States since Sept. 11 and framed the death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden as an opportunity for the two nations to work better together in the future.
“There have been times where we’ve had disagreements,” the president said during an interview aired Sunday on CBS’ “60 Minutes.” “There have been times where we’ve wanted to push harder and for very various concerns they might have hesitated, and those differences are real. And they’ll continue. But the fact of the matter is we’ve been able to kill more terrorists on Pakistani soil than just about anyplace else. We could not have done that without Pakistani cooperation.
“And I think that this will be an important moment in which Pakistan and the United States gets together and says, all right, we’ve gotten bin Laden, but we’ve got more work to do and are there ways for us to work more effectively together than we have in the past, and that’s going to be important for our national security,” he said in the interview, which was his first broadcast since U.S. Navy SEALs killed bin Laden in Pakistan on May 1.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) and ranking member Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) were skeptical Sunday that Pakistan was unaware of bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, where Pakistan’s military academy is located. Other lawmakers have called on the United States to re-examine aid to Pakistan in light of the revelation.
U.S. officials believe that bin Laden had a support network in Pakistan, Obama said, but they are still trying to determine whether it extended to government or intelligence officials.
“We think that there had to be some sort of support network for bin Laden inside of Pakistan, but we don’t know who or what that support network was,” he said. “We don’t know whether there might have been some people inside of government, people outside of government, and that’s something that we have to investigate and, more importantly, the Pakistani government has to investigate.”
The Pakistani government has expressed “profound interest” in discovering more about the support networks, the president said. But he warned that answers won’t come immediately.
“But these are questions that we’re not going to be able to answer three or four days after the event,” he said. “It’s going to take some time for us to be able to exploit the intelligence that we were able to gather on site.”
Obama added that he hopes that the information the SEALs collected from the compound could lead U.S. officials to other terrorists, as well as reveal the inner workings of al-Qaida.