President Barack Obama walks down the stairs from Air Force One upon arrival at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. on Friday, May 6, 2011. – Photo by AP

WASHINGTON/ NEW YORK: US President Barack Obama said on Sunday that Osama bin Laden had a support network in Pakistan, as his senior aides spelled out a strategy that seeks to punish those responsible for hiding the Al Qaeda leader in Abbottabad where he was killed last week by American commandos.

“We think that there had to be some sort of support network for Bin Laden inside of Pakistan,” President Obama told the CBS show ‘60 Minutes’.

US National Security Adviser Thomas E. Donilon went a step ahead and categorically declared that “there was a network in Abbottabad, Pakistan, which supported Bin Laden”.

Mr Donilon also announced that President Obama had no plans to visit Pakistan in the near future.

“There is not a visit on his schedule at this point.”

The top US security official, however, acknowledged that he had “not seen evidence” to suggest “that the political, the military or the intelligence leadership would have foreknowledge of Bin Laden”.

Senator John Kerry, the US Congress’s top foreign policy official, further elaborated this point: “There is no evidence that at the highest level, General Pasha, General Kayani, the president of Pakistan, knew this, there's no evidence at this moment.”

But, he added, “It is extraordinarily hard to believe that he could have survived there for five years or more in a major population centre without some kind of support system and knowledge.”

The statements give a clear picture of America’s post-Bin Laden strategy towards Pakistan, which not only requires Islamabad to break its ties with all terrorist groups but also to expose and punish those still having links with people like Osama.

But they also indicated that the United States wanted to achieve this objective by increasing its engagement with Pakistan and not by isolating it. Explaining what he wanted Pakistan to do now, President Obama said the US did not yet know “who or what that support network was”, which was supporting Bin Laden but would like to know.

“We don't know whether there might have been some people inside of government, people outside of government, and that's something that we have to investigate and, more importantly, the Pakistani government has to investigate,” he said.

“They have indicated they have a profound interest in finding out what kinds of support networks Bin Laden might have had,” he said.

Donilon said the US had already told Pakistan that “we will act to protect our interests”.

“They need to provide us with intelligence by the way from the compound that they gathered including access to Osama bin Laden's three wives whom they have in custody,” he said. “We have had difficulty with Pakistan but we've also had to work very closely with Pakistan in our counter-terror efforts. More terrorists and extremists have been captured or killed in Pakistan than in any place in the world.”

In their first interviews since Bin Laden’s elimination, Obama and his senior aides defended not informing Pakistan before sending their troops to the Abbottabad compound.

Donilon rejected the suggestion that the US did not warn Pakistan before sending its troops inside the country because they did not trust the Pakistanis.

“That's not a matter of trusting or not trusting and let me address that. It's a matter of operational security,” he said.

“To share it with any government outside the US would have been to lose control of dissemination which would not have been in the national interest.”

Donilon and Senator Kerry also rejected the suggestion that Bin Laden was killed unarmed and while he was ready to surrender.

The US commandos “entered the compound and were fired upon. They had to breach several walls and doors to get to where Osama bin Laden was. At no point during the course of this operation did Osama bin Laden indicate that he was prepared to surrender”, said Donilon.

Like other senior US officials and politicians who participated in television talks shows on Sunday, Senator Kerry said Pakistan should increase its efforts to fight terrorists but added that this should be done by further engaging Pakistan, not by isolating it.

“I think this is a time of enormous opportunity. It's opportunity for our relationship in Pakistan and an opportunity for our policies in Afghanistan. And obviously they are very, very linked,” he said.

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