America's Inscrutable Partner Pakistan, Bin Laden and the Fight against Terror

Pakistan, the country's Foreign Ministry has made clear, knew nothing of the US raid on Osama bin Laden's compound. The reason is that Washington has little faith in its supposed ally in the war on terror. Many suspect that Islamabad is playing a double game.

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari insists that his country is a valuable US ally in the fight against terror.
AFP

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari insists that his country is a valuable US ally in the fight against terror.

By in Islamabad


Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari's comments in the Washington Post on Tuesday were clearly directed against the United States. "Some in the US press have suggested that Pakistan lacked vitality in its pursuit of terrorism, or worse yet that we were disingenuous and actually protected the terrorists we claimed to be pursuing. Such baseless speculation may make exciting cable news, but it doesn't reflect fact."

The situation is deeply embarrassing for Pakistan: Osama bin Laden, the world's most-wanted terrorist, was tracked down in the heart of the country and, on Sunday night, killed by US Special Forces. According to US President Barack Obama's counterterrorism advisor John Brennan, bin Laden lived undisturbed for "five to six years" in the lavish compound on the outskirts of Abbottabad.

Pakistani security forces initially referred to the incident as a "top-secret joint campaign by American and Pakistani security forces." By Monday afternoon, Islamabad had changed its tune, saying only that Washington had brought Pakistani officials into the loop shortly before the attack at around 1 a.m., so that Pakistani soldiers could seal off the area. It is now clear that Washington did not notify Islamabad at all.

The Pakistani military was taken by surprise when American helicopters flew into Abbottabad, only sealing off the area after the mission was already underway and one of the US helicopters had crash-landed. "The first statements from the Pakistani army and the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) must have been made to save face," said an American diplomat in Islamabad.

'We Were Totally Caught by Surprise'

Finally, on Tuesday, ISI representatives admitted to SPIEGEL ONLINE that they had not been informed of the raid. "I have to say, unfortunately, that we knew nothing. We were totally caught by surprise." An ISI official also admitted that mistakes had been made in the search for bin Laden. The property was searched in 2003, when the house was built, but nothing suspicious was found. "We hadn't had it on our radar since then," the official continued. A courier for the terrorist leader had been living in the compound for some time, however, according to US information. The ISI official said the agency would now investigate how bin Laden could have been living undetected so close to a well-guarded military academy.

On Tuesday, the Pakistani government insisted that it was firmly on the side of the United States in the war on terrorism. A statement released by the Foreign Ministry makes it clear that the government of Pakistan knew nothing about the raid before hand. But, it says, "as far as the target compound is concerned, ISI had been sharing information with the CIA and other friendly intelligence agencies since 2009." The "intelligence flow" included information about "some foreigners living in the surroundings of Abbottabad." The assistance provided by the ISI, the statement continues, ultimately led to the killing of bin Laden, "a fact also acknowledged by the US President and Secretary of State," the statement says.

The statement also notes that reports that the US helicopters had taken off from a Pakistani air base in Ghazi were "absolutely false and incorrect," and that the helicopters had in fact penetrated Pakistani air space through "blind spots" in radar coverage. The Foreign Ministry confirmed that the Pakistani Air Force had deployed fighter jets once the helicopters were detected and before it was clear who they belonged to.

The ISI official reported that the agency had taken into custody a wife and a daughter of bin Laden, as well as "eight to nine children who are not bin Laden's children," whom the US Special Forces unit had left behind in the house after the raid. He was unwilling to specify where they were being held, "for security reasons."

No Knowledge

Government officials said, however, that the women and children were being held "either in the ISI barracks in Abbottabad or at headquarters in Islamabad." According to the intelligence agency, investigations thus far make it seem unlikely that they will be charged with any crime. "However, we want to use the opportunity to find out as much as possible about Osama bin Laden." As soon as they had been fully questioned, ISI officials said, they would be released and deported to their native countries, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. In addition, the officials said that "a few documents" had been seized and were now being evaluated. However, the majority of the documents and the information on computer hard drives were in the hands of the CIA.

According to statements by both Washington and Islamabad, one of bin Laden's wives and three other men were killed in the attack. The ISI stated that the Americans captured one person alive, presumably one of bin Laden's sons. Bin Laden's 12-year-old daughter reportedly witnessed her father being killed by two bullets from a US soldier's weapon.

Officials in Washington do not believe Islamabad's claims that it had no knowledge of bin Laden's hiding place. It was "inconceivable" that the terrorist leader had not received any support from Pakistan, said Obama's counterterrorism advisor John Brennan. "We are looking right now at how he was able to hold out there for so long." Members of the US Congress have also expressed doubts over the Pakistani claim not to have known anything about bin Laden's whereabouts.

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