OBL commission leaves important question unaddressed

Updated July 10, 2013

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The compound in Abbottabad where former al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was shot dead in a US forces raid on May 2, 2011.— File Photo.
The compound in Abbottabad where former al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was shot dead in a US forces raid on May 2, 2011.— File Photo.

ISLAMABAD: An important question which remained unaddressed in the voluminous report of the commission on the killing of Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad is whether the security establishment of the country was informed beforehand about the operation by the Americans, as the US SEALs seamlessly flew in and completed the mission with absolutely no resistance from ‘our side’.

The commission, whose report was released by the Doha-based Al Jazeera television on Tuesday, duly raised this question, but failed to get a satisfactory response. The commission said: “The leaders at the helm of affairs, who were in a position to provide the most reliable information, didn’t meet with the commission, which would have put questions on this and other unanswered questions directly.”

It’s not clear in the report if the commission had sought a meeting with the president, the-then prime minister or the chief of the army staff. The commission has also not named the leaders who had refused to appear before it. The commission, however, noted that considering the seriousness of the operation and its possible ramifications in the event of failure for the US government, it was very unlikely that the Americans had not shared the mission with the Pakistani authorities concerned. “It’s possible to understand if not agree with the US decision to unilaterally implement its special operation mission. But, it is much more difficult to understand the rationale for it not sending any communication to Pakistan at any time before the even during the operation keeping in view of the inherent and irreducible risks of detection by the Pakistan Air Force and US political imperative to minimise any risk of capture or injury to its Navy SEALs,” said the report.

The commission has raised the question that “given the time of 90 minutes between the arrival of the helicopters over Abbottabad and the blast of the destruction of the crippled helicopter, it is surprising that no one brought the matter to the military command, especially, as it was known that Pakistani helicopters seldom, if ever flew at night. Why was the Chief of the Air Staff not directly informed about helicopters flying over Abbottabad at night”.

According to the report, there seemed to be some suspicion among PAF personnel that the air force for some reason deliberately took no action against the American intruders, possibly in response to some kind of communication from the US to the Pakistani leadership. There was so much confusion within the air force over its late response to the US SEALs, the PAF leadership had to take special measures to allay any such misgivings by arranging a technical briefing for the force’s personnel affected by the media criticism, the report said.

The commission observed that the chief of the air staff should have learnt the development in Abbottabad from the PAF itself instead of getting the information from an hour later from the COAS.

The commission said it wasn’t presented any conclusive evidence of communication from the US warning Pakistan of either an imminent or ongoing operation.

The report said the director general military operations denied that any US authority communicated prior information about the mission to Pakistan. The DGMO made a detailed technical evaluation report of the execution of the US raid that how the far superior American technology was used to complete the operation.

The commission said that instead of accepting the May 2 incident as a security lapse involving the failure of the armed forces including PAF, the DGMO insisted that it was a betrayal of trust by a country allied to Pakistan against a common enemy. The commission took it as an emotional and inadequate response by a senior officer.

Throughout the report, the commission raised questions over the acts of commission and omission by the security establishment at the GHQ and those who handled the situation soon after the Americans killed and took away the dead body of Bin Laden. For example, the commandant, Pakistan Military Academy, who was the garrison commander responsible for the area, didn’t allow local civil administration to take the charge.

The commission observed: “The commandant may have been following instructions from his military superiors but he exceeded his authority even if he was directed by the GHQ to take charge of the scene and to hand over the investigation to the ISI.”

According to the report, it took the US special forces around 36-38 minutes to complete the killing operation. As per the timeline calculated by the commission after listening to various accounts, President Asif Zardari, who is the supreme commander of the armed forces, was the last one to know about the development.