CIA watched Bin Laden from safe house
Washington, May 6, 2011
Extensive surveillance of Osama bin Laden's hideout from a nearby CIA safe house in Abbottabad led to his killing in a Navy SEALs operation, US officials said, a revelation likely to further embarrass Pakistan's spy agency and strain ties.
The US officials, quoted by the Washington Post on Friday, said the safe house was the base for an intelligence-gathering operation that began after bin Laden's compound was discovered last August, and which was so exhaustive that the CIA asked Congress to reallocate tens of millions of dollars to fund it.
'The CIA's job was to find and fix,' the Post quoted one US official as saying. 'The intelligence work was as complete as it was going to be, and it was the military's turn to finish the target.'
US officials told the New York Times that intelligence gathered from computer files and documents seized at his compound showed that bin Laden had for years directly orchestrated Al Qaeda attacks from the Pakistani town.
The fact that Bin Laden was found in a garrison town -- his compound was a stone's throw away from a major military academy -- has embarrassed Pakistan and the covert raid by US commandos that led to his killing has angered its military.
On Thursday, the Pakistan army threatened to halt counter-terrorism cooperation with the United States, if it conducted another, similar unilateral strike.
A major Islamist party in Pakistan, Jamaat-e-Islami, called for mass protests on Friday against what it called a violation of sovereignty by the US raid. It also urged the government to end support for US battles against militants.
A senior Pakistani security official also charged that US troops had killed the unarmed Al Qaeda leader in 'cold blood'. The criticism from Pakistan is likely to fray a relationship that Washington deems vital to defeating the al Qaeda movement that Bin Laden led and winning its war in neighboring Afghanistan.
A US acknowledgment that bin Laden was unarmed when shot in the head -- as well as the sea burial of his body, a rare practice in Islam -- have also drawn criticism in the Arab world and Europe, where some have warned of a backlash.
Few Americans appear to have any qualms about how bin Laden was killed, and on Thursday, scores of people cheered President Barack Obama during a visit to New York's Ground Zero, site of the twin towers Al Qaeda levelled on September 11, 2001, to comfort a city still scarred by attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people. Obama said the killing of Bin Laden 'sent a message around the world, but also sent a message here back home, that when we say we will never forget, we mean what we say.'
Friction between Washington and Pakistan has focused on the role of Pakistan's top security service, the ISI or Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate.
Foreign secretary Salman Bashir denied Pakistani forces or the ISI aided al Qaeda. 'The critique of the ISI is not only unwarranted, it cannot be validated,' he said.
Lobbyists for Pakistan in Washington have launched an intense campaign on Capitol Hill to counter accusations that Islamabad deliberately gave refuge to Bin Laden.
But many Americans are questioning how the Al Qaeda leader could live for years in a Pakistani town teeming with military personnel, 50 km (31 miles) from the capital, Islamabad. Two US lawmakers have also complained about the billions in US
civilian and military aid to impoverished Pakistan.
Pakistan's army, facing rare criticism at home over the US operation, warned the United States it would risk this cooperation if it conducted another assault.
Chief of Staff General Ashfaq Kayani 'made it clear that any similar action violating the sovereignty of Pakistan will warrant a review on the level of military/intelligence cooperation with the United States', the army said.
It was unclear if such attacks included drone strikes which the US military regularly conducts against militants along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. Pakistan has denied harbouring any members of Al Qaeda. - Reuters