WASHINGTON: The Obama administration seems to have acquired a “tacit consent” of the Pakistani military for the May 2 raid in Abbottabad that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, claims a new book released in the United States on Wednesday.
The book – “Leading from Behind: The Reluctant President and the Advisors Who Decide for Him” – also claimed that in August 2010, the ISI offered valuable information about bin Laden’s hideout to the CIA.
On page 116, author Richard Miniter disputes US President Barack Obama’s claim that he took a great political risk by ordering a strike into a compound near the Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul.
“Far from taking a risk, there are indications that a cover story had been developed with the Pakistani military and that Mr Obama had their tacit consent for the mission,” he writes.
The author, a former reporter with The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, argues that “the Obama administration’s account of Pakistan’s role (in the operation) is misleading and incomplete.”
The author also claims that Pakistan Army chief may have been briefed in December 2010 about the operation, five months before the night-time raid on bin Laden’s concrete castle. “Pakistan was more involved in the bin Laden operation than Obama’s team admitted,” he argues.
Giving a “never-before-reported account” of the Abbottabad raid, the author writes: “When the CIA revealed that an ISI colonel had contacted the CIA in Islamabad and offered information about bin Laden, a debate followed.
“Was this a secret sign that the head of the ISI was pointing out bin Laden’s hiding place or was the colonel actually the patriot who hated extremism that he claimed to be?”
Although Mr Miniter does not explain what information did the ISI provide, he notes that “the CIA found bin Laden’s hiding place within a month of the colonel’s visit” to its Islamabad office.
An official with “second hand knowledge of the White House discussion” on the operation tells the author that “there was talking about devising a cover story that would allow Pakistan to be helpful while keeping its leaders form political harm.”
The story was that bin Laden was killed in a drone strike and that the US later sent in a SEAL team to recover the body.
“That was believed to be less politically harmful than a commando team treading on Pakistan’s oil,” told the author.
According to this official, when the Pakistan Army chief was alerted in December 2010, “no concrete facts about the operation were passed on, but an informal approval was sought.”
When A US helicopter crashed into bin Laden’s compound, the cover story was abandoned. The decision “completely … Pakistan” by leaving it alone to deal with the consequences of a hugely unpopular operation.
The author says that while he could not be independently confirm the information, “it has the virtue of explaining why the Obama administration did not press to end military aid to Pakistan when bin Laden was found 800 yards from its officer training facility.”
The book also gives intriguing details about the walled-compound where bin Laden was hiding, which CIA analysts estimated cost well over $1 million to build. It had no telephone, Internet, cable-television, or electrical wires attached to it.
A CIA team gained access to Pakistan’s official building-permit and ownership records. The paperwork indicated that the building permit for this specially constructed enclave was issued in 2005 and that bin Laden’s courier, Omar al-Kuwaiti, was listed as the owner, under the name Arshad Khan. His brother Abrar was listed as a co-owner.
“The record held another surprise. The land for the bin Laden lair seemed to have been carved out of property owned by the Kakul Military Academy,” Mr Miniter claims.
The book also disputes Obama administration’s claim that the al-Qaeda leader was killed in a forty-minute fire-fight. “Few shots were fired and the mission was completed in less than twenty minutes.”
As the elite US commando team, known as the SEALs, entered the compound, Omar al-Kuwaiti emerged with an AK-47 and was instantly felled by a single shot. The bullet passed through him and killed his wife, who was standing a few feet behind.
His brother Abrar would die within a minute when he, too, stepped out into the night with an automatic weapon.
The book also shows that while the Pakistani military claimed to have no knowledge of the operation until after it was over, OBL’s neighbours were knocking at the door as soon as the raid began.
“With the gunshots and the helicopter crash, the neighbours appeared. In perfect Pashto, (a CIA) translator acted the art of a Pakistani policeman. “Go back to your houses. There is a security operation under way,” he said.
Although the Pakistan Military Academy was only a 1,000 yards away from the compound, no military personnel came to enquire what was happening, not even after a helicopter crashed.
At 4:18 p.m. Washington time, the SEAL’s finally reached bin Laden. Within two minutes bin Laden, his son and his protectors were dead.”
The book also claims that key clues to bin Laden’s hideout, especially the identity of the courier who was his main link to the outside world, were first uncovered in the Bush years.
The CIA found bin Laden’s hideout in the first few months of the Obama administration. “Yet it took the president almost two years to make a decision to act on this valuable intelligence as he deliberated and delayed,” says the author.
“Mr Obama was often disengaged as the bin Laden operation took shape; he left critical decisions to the then-CIA director Leon Panetta, then-Secretary of Defence Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Obama feared taking responsibility for a risky raid that might go tragically wrong.”
A single call to al-Kuwaiti, lasting less than a minute, gave him away in 2009. America’s electronic sleuths were tracking al-Kuwaiti through his mobile phone. A technical team mapped the locations of every phone al-Kuwaiti made a call to or received a call from. It showed red dots all over Afghanistan and Pakistan.
A covert ground team eventually spotted al-Kuwaiti himself in the Bilal Town section of Abbottabad. He liked to roam the busy streets of Abbottabad in a white sport-utility vehicle, with a distinctive red rhino emblazoned on its spare tire cover. It made him easy to follow.
Within weeks al-Kuwaiti was tracked repeatedly entering and exiting a mysterious walled compound. Inside the protective walls was a three-story tower with concrete-block privacy walls screenings it balconies.
Mr Panetta had previously ordered surveillance by satellite and drone aircraft. In April 2009, a ground team also began an intense surveillance.
What if it was not OBL? “It does not matter,” Mr Panetta responded, “if it isn’t bin Laden, then it’s another very senior al-Qaeda leader.”
Initially, a drone or a B-2 bomber cruise missile, Mrs Clinton and Mr Gates both supported but another closed Obama aide Valerie Jarrett, opposed.
An undercover ground team was sent into Abbottabad, and they soon learned there was another family living with the couriers and that the composition of that family matched bin Laden’s.
The covert CIA team tried various ruses to learn the identity of the compound residents, including free door-to-door polio immunisation.
President Obama realised that an air strike could kill non-combatants, provoking enormous outrage in Pakistan.
In January 2010, President Obama ordered Vice Admiral Bill McRaven, a former Navy Seal, ran the Joint Special Operations Command, to develop a range of military operations. The SEALs’ Team Six was formed but commander was not informed bin Laden was the target.
At a March 14, 2011 White House Situation Room, President Obama decided Pakistan should be kept in the dark while America made its plans.
Bombing was ruled out. “All it has to be is about 1,000 yards and it hits the Pakistan Military Academy,” said a senior CIA official. Also, bombing would not produce conclusive evidence that bin Laden was dead.
President Obama’s national security team was particularly worried about Pakistan. The allied government was always vocally opposed to operations on its soil, in that nation’s press at least. Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups remained popular in Pakistan and parties allied with them ideologically usually commanded more than one-third of the vote in elections.
In private, Pakistan usually asked for some wiggle-room to deny knowing about a drone operation for internal political reasons.