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The Malaysian Insider :: World

The Malaysian Insider :: World


US seeks answers on whether Pakistan aided bin Laden

Posted: 03 May 2011 06:50 PM PDT

A Pakistani soldier is seen searching the building of a compound following a firefight, in Abbottabad on May 2, 2011 in this still image taken from video footage. — Reuters pic

ABBOTTABAD, Pakistan, May 4 — The United States vowed yesterday to "get to the bottom" of whether Pakistan helped Osama bin Laden elude a long manhunt before he was killed in a US raid, even as Islamabad denied it gave shelter to the al Qaeda leader.

The White House also released more details about the killing of the world's most-wanted man, including that bin Laden was unarmed when he was shot at least once in the head by a US commando.

President Barack Obama's press secretary, Jay Carney, insisted the al Qaeda leader resisted — although he would not say how — when US forces stormed his compound north of Islamabad and engaged in a firefight there. Officials were still debating whether to release a "gruesome" picture of his body.

Washington kept Pakistani officials in the dark about the special forces assault carried out on Monday, fearing they might "alert the targets" and jeopardise the mission, which ended with bin Laden's death, CIA Director Leon Panetta told Time magazine.

The revelation that bin Laden had holed up in a fortified compound in the military garrison town of Abbottabad, possibly for five to six years, prompted many US lawmakers to demand a review of the billions of dollars in aid Washington gives to nuclear-armed Pakistan.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, issuing his first response to questions about how bin Laden was able to live undetected for so long near the capital Islamabad, did little to dispel suspicions.

"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," Zardari wrote in the Washington Post. "Such baseless speculation ... doesn't reflect fact."

It was the first substantive public comment by any Pakistani leader on the airborne raid that killed the al Qaeda leader, who had become the face of Islamist militancy since masterminding the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

Pakistan has come under intense international scrutiny since bin Laden's death, with questions on whether its security agencies were too incompetent to catch him or knew all along where he was hiding, and even whether they were complicit.

"It would be premature to rule out the possibility that there were some individuals inside of Pakistan, including within the official Pakistani establishment, who might have been aware of this," White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan told National Public Radio.

"We're not accusing anybody at this point, but we want to make sure we get to the bottom of this," he said.

Reflecting a US-Pakistani alliance strained by years of mistrust, Islamabad was not told about the raid until after all US aircraft were out of Pakistani airspace.

At the same time, killing bin Laden — who became the epitome of evil for many Americans as architect of the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington — has given Obama a popularity boost at home where his standing had been eroded by economic woes and high gasoline prices.

About four in 10 Americans say their opinion of Obama improved after he ordered the bin Laden raid. But the bump in his ratings could be short-lived as voters focus again on domestic concerns crucial to his 2012 re-election prospects.

Obama may face more pressure to speed the planned withdrawal this July of some US forces from the unpopular war in Afghanistan.

The White House was also wrestling with releasing what it called a "gruesome" image of bin Laden's corpse — a move that could quell any doubts in the Muslim world on whether he was dead and also give closure to Americans nearly a decade after the 2001 attacks. But critics say such photos could also offend Muslim sensibilities and be exploited by extremists.

White House Press secretary Carney, cautioned: "There are sensitivities here in terms of the appropriateness of releasing photographs of Osama bin Laden."

The Afghan Taliban challenged the truth of bin Laden's death, saying Washington had not provided "acceptable evidence to back up their claim" that he had been killed.

No photos or video of bin Laden's swift burial at sea have been released.

CALLS FOR REVIEW OF US AID

While Islamabad hailed the killing of bin Laden as an important milestone in the fight against terrorism, Pakistan's foreign ministry expressed "deep concerns" that the operation was carried out without informing it in advance.

Pakistan, which for years has said it did not know bin Laden's whereabouts, said it had been sharing information about the targeted compound with the CIA since 2009.

"He was not anywhere we had anticipated he would be but now he is gone," Zardari said, crediting a "decade of cooperation and partnership between the United States and Pakistan."

Irate US lawmakers, already doubtful of Pakistan's cooperation against al Qaeda, demanded to know how it was possible for bin Laden to live near a military training academy without anyone in authority knowing about it.

They said it was time to review aid to Pakistan. The US Congress has approved $20 billion for Pakistan in direct aid and military reimbursements partly to help Islamabad fight militancy since al Qaeda's strikes on the United States.

"Our government is in fiscal distress. To make contributions to a country that isn't going to be fully supportive is a problem for many," said Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein.

Prime Minister David Cameron told BBC radio Britain would keep working with Pakistan to combat militancy, but insisted bin Laden "must have had a support network in Pakistan" and that Islamabad must answer questions on the subject.

Even as the White House and Congress stepped up pressure on Pakistan for a full accounting, there was a sense in Washington that the US-Pakistani counterterrorism partnership — already badly frayed — was too vital to fail altogether.

And some lawmakers urged caution, warning that an aid cutoff would be counterproductive.

In Islamabad, there was mostly a sense of embarrassment or indifference that bin Laden had managed to lie low for so long. "The failure of Pakistan to detect the presence of the world's most-wanted man here is shocking," the daily News said in an editorial, reflecting the general tone in the media.

Pakistan, where anti-US sentiment runs high, has a long history of nurturing Islamist militants in the interests of its strategic objectives, primarily facing up to what it sees as its biggest threat — India.

In the first sign militants were attempting to strike back, Afghan forces killed and wounded 25 foreign fighters after they crossed the border from Pakistan, a government official said.

Bin Laden's death had initially boosted the dollar and shares in belief his killing reduced global security risks. But shares dipped yesterday and the dollar struggled to pull away from a three-year low as markets refocused on a fragile global economy and corporate earnings prospects. Still, the threat of revenge attacks could support oil prices, analysts said. — Reuters 

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Q+A: What really happened in Abbottabad?

Posted: 03 May 2011 04:25 PM PDT

US Army's 10th Combat Aviation Brigade soldiers work on a helicopter rotor pitch control in the maintenance hut at Jalalabad Air Field in Nangarhar province May 3, 2011. — Reuters pic

WASHINGTON, May 4 — The White House, Pentagon and CIA are congratulating themselves over what appears to have been a stunningly successful mission to hunt down and kill al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

But since Navy SEALs raided bin Laden's hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on Monday, conflicting accounts have emerged about what really went on before, during and after the commando raid.

Here are some questions and answers about key issues where conflicting stories have surfaced:

Q: What was the purpose of the US commando operation?

A: Aides to President Barack Obama have suggested that the commando team's orders were to either capture bin Laden or kill him. However, US officials familiar with the plan say there was an overwhelming expectation from the outset that bin Laden would be killed during the operation.

In planning the operation, a senior US defence official told a background briefing, "there were certainly capture contingencies, as there must be." But US officials said that the "capture contingencies" related to a possibility thought to be highly unlikely: a humble and abject surrender, in which the al Qaeda founder would put his hands up, raise a white flag and beg not to be shot. There has been no evidence presented that anything like this happened.

Q: Did bin Laden fight back?

A: The US government says bin Laden "resisted" before he was killed by commandos.

According to some early accounts, bin Laden had a gun in his hand but did not fire it. According to one of these accounts, as US raiders made their way through his three-story hideout, they met with hostile fire on the first and second floors, but no shooting on the third, where they found bin Laden.

Yesterday, however, White House press secretary Jay Carney gave the following version: "In the room with bin Laden, a woman — bin Laden's wife — rushed the US assaulter and was shot in the leg but not killed. Bin Laden was then shot and killed. He was not armed."

Q: How many times was bin Laden shot, and where?

A: Officials told Reuters they were still awaiting final after-action reports as to how many times and where bin Laden was shot. But an official who saw pictures of the body said he was shot at least once in the face.

The standard Navy SEAL tactic in such an operation would be to shoot the target once in the chest (to stop) and once in the head (to kill). Most, though not all, media reports say this is what happened.

Q: Did bin Laden use a woman as a human shield?

A: This was suggested Monday by presidential counterterrorism advisor John Brennan said at the White House: "There was a family at that compound, and there was a female who was, in fact, in the line of fire that reportedly was used as a shield to shield bin Laden from the incoming fire."

Yesterday, however, US officials said that on the first floor of bin Laden's building, two al Qaeda couriers were killed along with a woman who was killed in cross-fire. White House officials said they were not sure if the woman was used as a shield.

Bin Laden's wife, who was found in the room with him, rushed US commandos and was shot in the leg but not killed.

Q: Did the US commandos take any prisoners?

A: The BBC reported it had been told by a Pakistani intelligence official that the Americans had taken one man alive as captive during the raid, possibly a son of bin Laden. Several US officials said flatly that this is false: that the only person, dead or alive, taken away by US raiders from the scene was the body of Osama bin Laden.

Bin Laden family members were taken from the scene by Pakistani authorities, a US official said, and it will be up to Pakistan what happens to bin Laden's survivors now.

Q: Why did one of the US commandos helicopters crash?

A: It didn't crash, exactly,

US officials familiar with the raid said that what happened was this: the original plan was that the two Blackhawk helicopters carrying the main assault force were supposed to hover above bin Laden's compound throughout the course of the raid and the commandos were supposed to rappel from the aircraft down to the ground.

However, US officials said that one of the helicopters encountered trouble due to unexpected flying conditions. In an account whose details other officials confirmed, Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein said: "I know what I've been told, which was that the temperature was 17 degrees higher than anticipated, and based on the temperature, and the load in the helicopter, the helicopter began to descend, and so it was a kind of controlled but hard landing."

Other officials said the landing was hard enough to disable the helicopter which the US team destroyed. The second Blackhawk then made an unscheduled landing and the raiders later piled into that aircraft and two Chinook helicopters which had flown in as backup when the mission was over. — Reuters 

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