WASHINGTON - Top U.S. defense officials said Wednesday there was no evidence Pakistan's leadership was aware that Osama bin Laden was in their country before a U.S. military raid killed him, and they cautioned against punitive action against Islamabad over the incident.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a Pentagon news conference he had seen "no evidence at all" that the senior Pakistani leadership knew the al Qaeda leader's whereabouts before the raid and "in fact, I've seen some evidence to the contrary."
Bin Laden was killed earlier this month in a compound in Abbottabad, a garrison town near the Pakistani capital. The incident deeply embarrassed Pakistan's military and spy agencies and led to calls by members of the U.S. Congress for a tougher approach toward the country.
But Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, cautioned against taking action that could worsen relations and interrupt the flow of U.S. aid to Pakistan.
"I think we have to proceed with some caution," he told reporters. "We do have significant interests in Pakistan. I think that my own view would be that ... we need to continue the assistance that we have provided, the benefits to the Pakistani people."
Gates noted Pakistan had already paid a significant price in embarrassment and damage to its reputation as a result of the raid.
"If I were in Pakistani shoes, I would say I've already paid a price. I've been humiliated. I've been shown that the Americans can come in here and do this with impunity," he said. "And I think we have to ... recognize that they see a cost in that and a price that has been paid."
Gates also said Pakistanis had indicated a willingness to go after al Qaeda or Afghan insurgent leaders, and it was important to give them an opportunity to do that.
"The Pakistanis over the last couple of weeks have ... expressed the view that they are willing to go after some of these people and ... we should not repeat the bin Laden operation because ... they will undertake this themselves," he said.
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