As the details of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden begin to emerge, one thing is clear: the powers that be in Pakistan – its military and intelligence services – must have known for some time where the terror leader was hiding from the US and the rest of the Coalition. Below are some of the key indicators that explain how Pakistan is complicit in sheltering bin Laden.
Abbottabad is not a remote area in Pakistan’s tribal regions. The city lies just 30 miles north of the Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, and its sister city, Rawalpindi, which serves as the headquarters and garrison city of Pakistan’s powerful military. Abbottabad is located in the settled district with the same name in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, far from the tribal areas. The Afghan-Pakistani border is 125 miles to the west. The city has a hospital and an airport.
Abbotabad also hosts the headquarters of a Pakistani Army division. Bin Laden’s mansion is said to be located in an affluent area of the city, where numerous retired military and intelligence officials reside. And the mansion is said to be only a few hundred yards away from an Army military academy.
The mansion in which bin Laden and family members were sheltered wasn’t located on the outskirts of Abbottabad, tucked away from prying eyes. The mansion was located in the heart of the city. It is said to have cost more than $1 million dollars to build, and was reportedly constructed in 2005. The mansion has been described as a fortress, with 15-foot-high outer walls, and seven-foot-high walls on the terraces. A complex such as this would clearly have caught the eye of Pakistani officials.
The intel and the raid:
The US has been aware of the location of bin Laden’s mansion since last summer. It is next to impossible to believe that while US intelligence was aware of the location of bin Laden’s hideout, Pakistan’s intelligence services, with their vast links to terrorist groups, were not. The US’ intelligence on the mansion was so good that it built a mock-up of the location, and the assault force of SEALs trained at it for weeks to hone their skills.
The fact that the US kept the Pakistani government, military, and intelligence services out of the loop shows that the US believed it could not trust Pakistan to participate in the operation. According to reports, as well as my own sources, the Pakistanis were not informed that an operation targeting bin Laden was being executed until it was well underway. And even then, Pakistan was not made aware of the location of the raid and was told to not get in the way of the US operation. If the US was confident that Pakistan was sincere about aiding in the capture or killing of bin Laden, it would have been easier and far less risky to have Pakistani forces carry out the operation in conjunction with US military and CIA personnel.
A Pakistani official’s statements on the raid make it clear that Pakistan knew where bin Laden was, but did not act. In an interview with CNN, Wajid Hasan, Pakistan’s high commissioner to the Untied Kingdom, actually said that Pakistan was “monitoring” bin Laden’s location but the US beat Pakistan to the punch and launched the raid.
“We were monitoring him and the Americans were monitoring him,” Hasan said. “But the Americans got to knowing where he was first and that is why they struck at him precisely.”
Later in the interview, Hasan said that “Pakistan had been keeping certain areas monitored, and it knew where he was.”
So, according to Hasan, Pakistani officials knew of bin Laden’s location, and yet they never launched a raid to detain or kill bin Laden. Somehow, the US was able to outmaneuver the Pakistani security forces on their own turf.
Osama’s confidence in his security
While it is next to impossible to know the calculations made by bin Laden to shelter in a Pakistani city, it isn’t a stretch to say that he was confident enough to live in Abbottabad for an extended period of time because he felt that he, and his family, would be safe. Since his ouster from Sudan in 1996, bin Laden has been wary about entrusting his personal security to states. Yet he had to believe that there was little to no risk in sheltering in a city with a heavy military presence in a compound that gave all indications it housed a very important person. Bin Laden or his handlers had to be confident that the mansion would not be disturbed by Pakistan’s military and intelligence services. And to be confident, they must have had assurances that bin Laden would not be touched by Pakistani security forces.