Pakistan’s president acknowledged for the first time yesterday that his security forces were left out of a US operation to kill Osama bin Laden, but he did little to dispel questions over how the al-Qaeda leader was able to live in comfort near Islamabad.
The revelation that bin Laden had holed up in a compound in the military garrison town of Abbottabad, possibly for years, prompted many US lawmakers to demand a review of the billions of dollars in aid Washington gives to Pakistan.
“He was not anywhere we had anticipated he would be, but now he is gone,” Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari wrote in an opinion piece in the Washington Post, without offering further defense against accusations his security services should have known where bin Laden was hiding.
“Although the events of Sunday were not a joint operation, a decade of cooperation and partnership between the United States and Pakistan led up to the elimination of Osama bin Laden as a continuing threat to the civilized world,” Zardari wrote.
It was the first substantive public comment by any Pakistani civilian or military leader on the airborne raid by US special forces in the early hours of Monday.
Pakistan has faced enormous international scrutiny since bin Laden was killed, with questions over whether its military and intelligence agencies were too incompetent to catch him or knew all along where he was hiding.
White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan told a briefing that Pakistan was not informed of the raid until after all US aircraft were out of Pakistani airspace.
On the CBS’ Early Show program, he said bin Laden lived for the past five to six years in the Abbottabad compound.
“Well I think the latest information is that he was in this compound for the past five or six years and he had virtually no interaction with others outside that compound. But yet he seemed to be very active inside the compound,” Brennan said. “And we know that he had released videos and audios. We know that he was in contact with some senior al-Qaeda officials.”
Brennan also said the US was considering whether or not to release photographs and video taken during the raid.
“We want to make sure that we’re able to do it in a thoughtful manner. We also want to anticipate what the reaction might be on the part of al-Qaeda or others to the release of certain information so that we can take the appropriate steps beforehand,” Brennan told CNN.
“Any other material, whether it be photos or videos or whatever else — we are looking at it and we’ll make the appropriate decisions,” he said.
Asked about any computers, documents and other material seized at the compound, Brennan said the material was being reviewed by US authorities.
Bin Laden, 54, was given a sea burial after Muslim funeral rites on the USS Carl Vinson. His shrouded body was placed in a weighted bag and eased into the north Arabian Sea, the US military said.
Senior US, Pakistani and Afghan officials later held a previously scheduled meeting in Islamabad to discuss the fight against militancy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but deflected questions about the bin Laden operation.
“Who did what is beside the point ... This issue of Osama bin Laden is history,” Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir told a joint news conference.
Marc Grossman, the US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said both sides wanted to move beyond recriminations and finger-pointing.
However, irate US lawmakers earlier asked how it was possible for bin Laden to live in a populated area near a military training academy without anyone in authority knowing about it.