LONDON: US forces killed Osama bin Laden with the full cooperation of Pakistani military and intelligence agencies, according to a controversial article in the London Review of Books by veteran investigative journalist Seymour M Hersh.
According to the 10,000-word expose published on the London Review of Books, bin Laden was a prisoner of the Pakistan military, who not only knew of his location, but were keeping him under house arrest and accepting funds from Saudi Arabia for his upkeep.
Another official US account Hersh contradicts is the idea that water-boarding and other “harsh interrogation” produced the intelligence that led to bin Laden (as in the fictionalised movie Zero Dark Thirty). In his article, Hersh claims a “walk-in” tipster told US officials about bin Laden’s whereabouts in exchange for $25 million.
The article widely contradicts multiple elements of the original account of the May 2011 raid by US forces provided by the Obama administration.
Hersh’s primary source for most of the revelations was a “a retired senior intelligence official who was knowledgeable about the initial intelligence about bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad.”
“The most blatant lie was that Pakistan’s two most senior military leaders — General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, chief of the army staff, and General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, director general of the ISI — were never informed of the US mission. This remains the White House position despite an array of reports that have raised questions,” Hersh wrote, adding that he had unearthed the following new pieces of information:
“Bin Laden had been a prisoner of the ISI at the Abbottabad compound since 2006 … Kayani and Pasha knew of the raid in advance and had made sure that the two helicopters delivering the Seals to Abbottabad could cross Pakistani airspace without triggering any alarms … that the CIA did not learn of bin Laden’s whereabouts by tracking his couriers, as the White House has claimed since May 2011, but from a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer who betrayed the secret in return for much of the $25 million reward offered by the US, and that, while Obama did order the raid and the Seal team did carry it out, many other aspects of the administration’s account were false.”
US officials, including President Obama, have repeatedly maintained that the Navy SEALS operation to take out bin Laden in 2011 was conducted without the help of Pakistan’s special forces and without notifying the Pakistani government beforehand.
Throughout his account, Hersh maintains that it “just made no sense that bin Laden was living in Abbottabad,” a military stronghold that is home to the nation’s equivalent of the West Point military academy.
Obama, Hersh wrote, doubted that special forces could carry out any kind of assault on the terrorist’s purported compound without help from Pakistan.
“The only way to accomplish both things, the retired official said, ‘was to get the Pakistanis on board,’” Hersh wrote. US intelligence services gradually collected information about the compound, until they were able to eventually prove that bin Laden had lived there with help from ISI.
“The compound was not an armed enclave — no machine guns around, because it was under ISI control,” Hersh wrote. Bin Laden had lived undetected in the Hindu Kush mountains that straddle northern Pakistan and southern Afghanistan from 2001 to 2006, until the ISI “got to him by paying some of the local tribal people to betray him,” Hersh wrote.
ISI then hid bin Laden in the Abbottabad compound for years, keeping his presence a secret, but using him to “keep tabs on al Qaeda and the Taliban,” a source told Hersh.
“The ISI was using bin Laden as leverage against Taliban and al Qaeda activities inside Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Hersh wrote.
But in 2010, the US began learning of bin Laden’s whereabouts, and months later, CIA officials began bringing a small number of Pakistani officials into the planning of the potential operation.
“It didn’t take long to get the co-operation we needed, because the Pakistanis wanted to ensure the continued release of American military aid, a good percentage of which was anti-terrorism funding that finances personal security,” a source told Hersh.
American and Pakistani officials bargained for weeks over how the mission would be carried out, and the Pakistanis proved instrumental in providing intelligence, in the final agreement, that allowed the raid to occur successfully.
“At the Abbottabad compound ISI guards were posted around the clock to keep watch over bin Laden and his wives and children. They were under orders to leave as soon as they heard the rotors of the US helicopters,” Hersh wrote.
“An ISI liaison officer flying with the Seals guided them into the darkened house and up a staircase to bin Laden’s quarters. The Seals had been warned by the Pakistanis that heavy steel doors blocked the stairwell on the first and second-floor landings; bin Laden’s rooms were on the third floor,” Hersh alleged, citing his sources.
After bin Laden was shot and killed during the raid, White House officials contended that his body was brought to the USS Carl Vinson, possibly in the Indian Ocean, for a burial at sea that was conducted in accordance with Muslim law.
Again, Hersh claims that the administration lied.
“Within weeks of the raid, I had been told by two longtime consultants to Special Operations Command, who have access to current intelligence, that the funeral aboard the Carl Vinson didn’t take place,” he wrote.
“One consultant told me that bin Laden’s remains were photographed and identified after being flown back to Afghanistan. The consultant added: ‘At that point, the CIA took control of the body,” Hersh wrote.