Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Pakistan's bin Laden Connection Is Probed (Wall Street Journal, 3 May 2011)

Courtesy: "Wall Street Journal", 3 May 2011

Pakistan's bin Laden Connection Is Probed

Obama administration officials said Monday they would probe whether Pakistani authorities helped al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden stay in hiding for years, one day after he was killed by U.S. special forces at an outsize mansion complex located in the same city as Pakistan's top military academy.
The announcement came as the U.S. moved swiftly to identify and dispose of the body they retrieved during a 40-minute strike inside Pakistan that was ordered by President Barack Obama. DNA tests showed a "virtually 100%" match of the body against genetic material from several bin Laden family members, a senior U.S. intelligence official said Monday. Bin Laden's remains were buried at sea.

Emerging details of the U.S. raid immediately raised questions about how bin Laden, the most wanted man in American history, had eluded a manhunt that dates back more than a decade. The al Qaeda leader was cornered not in a remote border hideout but in a three-story mansion complex in Abbottabad, a city roughly 40 miles north of Islamabad that is thick with active and retired Pakistani military personnel.
Senior U.S. officials said Monday that bin Laden clearly had support from within Pakistan that allowed him to live there. At a news briefing, President Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, credited Pakistan with capturing and killing more terrorists inside its borders than any other country, part of White House efforts since the strike to play down unhappiness with Pakistan. But he also said it was "inconceivable" that bin Laden didn't have a significant "support system" there.
Asked if it was credible to think that "Pakistani authorities" had no idea that the compound was being built, Mr. Brennan said: "We are talking with the Pakistanis on a regular basis now, and we're going to pursue all leads to find out exactly what type of support system and benefactors that bin Laden might have had."
He didn't specify which agencies of Pakistan's government would be investigated. But privately, administration officials said the U.S. would have to probe for the possible involvement of Pakistan's spy service and the military. "There are only so many agencies in the government that might have been involved," said an official.
The probe comes as relations are already at a low between Washington and one of its crucial allies in the fight against terrorism, overshadowing what was otherwise the most significant milestone in the years-long effort to bring to heel the al Qaeda network.
A number of U.S. lawmakers on Monday said Washington should re-evaluate its multibillion-dollar aid package for Pakistan because of the suspicions that at least some in the government may have played a role in sheltering the fugitive al Qaeda leader.
"This incident shows that Pakistan remains a critical but uncertain ally in the fight against terrorism," said Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican. "It's very difficult for me to understand how this huge compound could be built" without officials there knowing about it.
Pakistani officials are adamant they didn't know of the terror leader's presence. An official from Pakistan's main spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, said the ISI also had provided intelligence related to couriers who worked for bin Laden and eventually led the U.S. to his compound.
Still, the ISI official acknowledged that Pakistanis are embarrassed by the raid. "It's unfortunate, but we did not know about the people resident in that compound," said the official. "That is a negative fallout that we have to live with."
Having killed and identified bin Laden, U.S. officials then were confronted with the tricky problem of how to properly lay bin Laden to rest without offending sensibilities in the Islamic world or allowing his remains to become a shrine for Islamic extremists. Saudi Arabia declined a U.S. offer to take the body, said one official familiar with the situation. A spokesman for the Saudi Embassy declined to comment.
The body was buried at sea later Monday, in accordance with Islamic tradition that burial take place within 24 hours. Mr. Brennan said authorities were debating whether to release any photos, concerned that doing so might compromise their ability to conduct a similar operation in the future.
The United Nations Security Council issued a statement Monday welcoming the news that "Osama bin Laden will never again be able to perpetrate … acts of terrorism."
For a second day, Mr. Obama focused on both the military victory and the national unity that it has stirred. At a dinner at the White House Monday evening, Mr. Obama repeated that U.S. forces had killed bin Laden, and more than 100 members of Congress and senior administration officials and their spouses stood to applaud. "It is my fervent hope that we can harness some of that unity and some of that pride to confront the many challenges that we still face," the president said.
For many years, the CIA has been gathering leads on people in bin Laden's inner circle, and came to focus on one courier who eventually led them to the mansion. "We were shocked by what we saw," one official said, calling it "an extraordinarily unique compound."
Roughly eight times the size of other homes in the neighborhood, the compound had high barbed-wire fences and two security gates. Some living nearby called activity there unusual, recounting how one person frequently seen entering the house gave conflicting stories about himself and asked for bills to be delivered to a off-site location.
The property was valued at about $1 million, according to U.S. officials, but had no telephone or Internet service. It was built in 2005. U.S. officials believe it was constructed to house bin Laden, but they don't know when he moved in.
"It is very intriguing: How could bin Laden be living in the area escaping the military intelligence?" said Khurshid Alam, a retired army officer residing in the town.
"At best, the Pakistanis look totally incompetent," said C. Christine Fair, an assistant professor and Pakistan expert at Georgetown University. "At worst, they look completely complicit."
As a result of the discovery, U.S. officials and analysts say there is a significant risk that the U.S.-Pakistani alliance spawned in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks could fracture. The stakes for both sides are enormous. Despite the weekend's success, nuclear-armed Pakistan is still rife with Islamist militants who threaten both their own government and the West; most had only a tangential relationship with bin Laden and are unlikely to be affected by his death.
The question of how or whether bin Laden eluded the view of Pakistan's military intelligence could be pursued by President Obama's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, who held talks with Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani on Monday just hours after bin Laden's death.
Mr. Gilani, in a statement after the meeting, said he had expressed "the need for constructive and positive messaging from both sides" on the operation to kill bin Laden and the avoidance of "spin."
U.S. officials said they are uncertain how Pakistan's security services would react to the operation against bin Laden. In recent months they have sought to reduce the ability of the CIA and Pentagon to operate inside Pakistan, and Pakistan's generals could seek to limit U.S. operations even more now out of concern that the raid shows the U.S. has extensively penetrated Pakistan's defenses.
Others hope that bin Laden's demise could remove a historic irritant between Washington and Islamabad.
In their public remarks, U.S. officials appeared to be trying to avoid exacerbating the tensions of bin Laden's refuge in Pakistan.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton thanked "all of our partners around the world, including Pakistan, who have helped us put unprecedented pressure on al Qaeda." And Mr. Obama, in his Sunday night announcement of the raid in Abbottabad, said that unspecified "counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden."
Still, unhappiness was clear on Capitol Hill. Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Monday that the Pakistani army and intelligence arm have "a lot of questions to answer" given the location of the bin Laden house and the length of time he was there.
Some U.S. officials doubt that top Pakistani officials knew of bin Laden's location. "He probably had people supporting him in Pakistan, but we don't have any indications at this point that there was official Pakistani knowledge of his location," one U.S. official said.
Others are skeptical. "It's hard to imagine if they didn't know, why they didn't," said one top American aide. "Either way, it's troubling."
—Rehmat Mehsud, Matthew Rosenberg, Julian E. Barnes, Joe Lauria and Adam Entous contributed to this article.

Note: The viewpoint expressed in this article is solely that of the writer / news outlet. "FATA Awareness Initiative" Team may not agree with the opinion presented.

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