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Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was killed on May 2, 2011, ending a nearly decade long search since the September 11 attacks. — File Photo
WASHINGTON: Days before the first anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s elimination, US and Pakistani officials are saying that Pakistan, perhaps, had a greater role in helping the Americans reach the Al Qaeda chief than it was ever acknowledged.

On Saturday, media reports quoted unnamed American officials as saying that the information they learned from the ISI was ‘useful’ in determining Bin Laden’s presence in his Abbottabad compound.

Officials who spoke to Dawn also said the ISI provided the CIA with the initial lead that helped them find Bin Laden.

In its Saturday edition, The Washington Post reported that the ISI had provided the CIA with a cellphone number in 2010 that eventually led to an Al Qaeda courier, along with information that the phone had last been detected in Abbottabad.“The ISI said it did not know then that the number belonged to the Al Qaeda courier,” the Post added.

Sources told Dawn that the ISI provided the CIA “with bits and pieces that helped them make the bigger picture”.

The ISI, the sources said, did not have the capacity to build the bigger picture but “they were disappointed when the Americans did not share the conclusion they drew from the information the ISI had provided”.

The US decision to raid Bin Laden’s compound without consulting Pakistan, the sources added, “placed the ISI in an awkward position” and that’s why they did not claim credit for their role in leading the CIA to Bin Laden.

“After the raid, nobody had believed their claim,” said one such source. “Besides, it would not have helped them in Pakistan where the public was more interested in knowing why the Pakistani military failed in detecting the US forces. Saying that they led the Americans to the compound would have made the ISI look even worse.”

The sources said that the ISI was now trying to seek credit because it felt “this is the time to redeem their image and clear Pakistan’s name”.The May 2, 2011 US raid on Bin Laden’s compound has isolated Pakistan internationally and has done an irreparable damage to its image in the US where it is blamed for hiding America’s ‘public enemy number one’ for years.

The Post reported that an unnamed senior ISI official told its correspondent in Islamabad: “The lead and the information actually came from us.”

Another official said: “Any hit on [terror group] Al Qaeda anywhere in the world has happened with our help.”

But a senior US official told AFP news agency that “the Pakistanis didn’t provide any tips on Bin Laden. They provided certain information that aided the United States in developing the American intelligence picture on the compound,” said the official, who asked not to be identified.

“This was an American operation,” the official added.

One ISI official, who said he had been intimately involved in the hunt for senior Al Qaeda operatives, including Bin Laden, told the Post the ISI provided the CIA with a cellphone number that eventually led to an Al Qaeda courier using the fictitious name of Abu Ahmed Al Kuwaiti, the paper said.

The officials said that in November 2010, they turned over the number to the CIA, along with information that it had last been detected in Abbottabad, the report said.

The ISI said it did not know then that the number was Kuwaiti’s, but that CIA analysts did, without however relaying that information back to the Pakistanis, The Post reported.

“They knew who the number belonged to,” the paper quoted one official as saying. “But after that their cooperation with us ended.”

“It is the story of an extreme trust deficit and betrayal,” complained the other ISI official, the paper said.

However, a US official disputed the ISI version, The Post said.

“The fact is, our knowledge of the number didn’t come from them telling us about it,” the paper quoted the US official as saying.