WASHINGTON — Congress is seriously weighing the amount of its aid package to Pakistan as lawmakers Tuesday demanded to know more about what Islamabad officials knew about Osama bin Laden's secret compound.
There was widespread bipartisan agreement that aid to Pakistan, which last fiscal year included $2.2 billion in military assistance, should be "re-evaluated," as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., put it.
"It needs to be looked into," added House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
They and others stopped short of calling for an aid cutoff, which appeared unlikely. As Graham said, "It is better to engage with imperfect people."
Lawmakers were almost uniformly upset, skeptical — and puzzled — over what Pakistani officials knew about bin Laden's compound, which was only about 35 miles from Islamabad as the crow flies, and about a 75-mile drive. Built in 2005, the outsize fortress-like structure sat less than a mile from Pakistan's top military school in a neighborhood populated with retired army officers. If Pakistani officials knew bin Laden was there, they never told their U.S. allies, and if they didn't know, that raises questions about their competence.
Despite such doubts, some lawmakers defended Pakistan.
"The fact is that even while all of this has been going on, they've allowed us to pursue our drone program," said Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry, D-Mass., referring to the use of CIA drone aircraft to fire missiles at suspected terrorists in Pakistan, which is highly controversial there.
"We've taken out 16 al-Qaida leaders because of that. The fact that we were able to keep this place under observation for two years or more happened with their cooperation. The ability to track the couriers happened with their cooperation," Kerry said.
Still, lawmakers want answers. That process will begin in earnest today, when the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services committees question CIA Director Leon Panetta and other top officials familiar with Sunday's mission that resulted in the death of bin Laden.