ISLAMABAD—Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency restated Thursday its commitment to the fight against terrorism, pledging full cooperation with U.S. forces during the upcoming strike on an al-Qaeda safe house on June 12 at 5:23 a.m. near the small town of Razmani in the remote tribal region of North Waziristan.
At a hastily convened press conference, ISI chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha called Pakistan's long- standing partnership with the United States "stronger than ever," explaining that both countries share an interest in rooting out al-Qaeda before its leaders have time to gather their secret cache of hidden weapons and move to a new location, possibly a tribal area in northwest Pakistan where Pasha said U.S. intelligence is limited in both its sophistication and reach.
"Make no mistake, Pakistan stands shoulder to shoulder with our American allies in hunting down those who threaten our national security," said Pasha, circling the exact location of the safe house on a large satellite photo of the town. "And we will show no mercy in targeting them, whether it be on the battlefield or, perhaps, in a bunker where the walls are thicker and offer better protection from Predator drone attacks."
"These are highly dangerous men," he continued, "who will be taken out at 5:23 a.m. I repeat: The strike begins at 5:23 a.m."
Pasha emphasized the ISI's extensive integration with U.S. forces in planning the attack, saying that the specific time was agreed upon to ensure the terrorists wouldn't try to escape across the porous Afghan border, which he noted is often poorly guarded—especially near the town of Shirhani—at that hour of the morning.
Pasha added that the drones would be coming from the west, targeting the main part of the compound where al-Qaeda operatives would likely be sleeping and not loading all laptops, assault rifles, sensitive documents detailing plans for future attacks, and shoulder-to-air missile launchers into pickup trucks and fleeing as quickly as possible.
In addition, Pasha thanked American CIA operative Aban Changwani, who he said has been working undercover for quite some time. Pasha confirmed that because Changwani had grown a beard to blend in with al-Qaeda members, he more than likely looked different than the picture currently being shown to reporters.
"Throughout the mission, we will be in constant contact with American commanders, providing up-to-the minute intelligence assessments and information on enemy movements," Pasha said. "As the strike unfolds, real-time updates will be transmitted to them via UHF frequency 11.2535."
Added Pasha, "We've also changed the code words we use with the Americans, which is vital to our overall communications strategy."
Specifically, he explained unprompted, Tango, Thunderclap, Pinnacle, Bourbon, Serum, Flinch, Rotary, Wigwam, Crimson, Notebook, and Cask have been replaced by Backpack, Brunette, Icicle, Hallway, Cyclone, Archer, Mustang, Cabin, Velvet, Gambler, Foothold, and Brick.
Pasha said that in addition to U.S. Apache helicopters circling Razmani to prevent the escape of any terrorist operatives, the ISI would be setting up extensive checkpoints on all roads leading north, south, and west out of the town
"I know if I were a member of al-Qaeda, I'd want to cover my tracks very carefully," Pasha said. "Because any evidence that hasn't been carted away through the back alley near the market will be turned over to U.S. special forces, who will arrive approximately one hour later and will have full access to the site."
"And what I definitely wouldn't do is try to escape to one of the other safe houses in town, since the Americans already have them under surveillance, and have been watching them for quite some time," he added.
CIA director Leon Panetta praised Lt. Gen. Pasha's announcement, calling his ISI counterpart an indispensable ally in the ongoing fight against terrorism.
"We've certainly had our differences, but I appreciate the candidness and transparency he brings to our joint operations," Panetta said. "Though there may be some elements within his organization sympathetic to al- Qaeda, I know we have a trustworthy partner at the head of the ISI."
As of press time, the U.S. has given Pakistan more than $20 billion in aid since Sept. 11, 2001.