/ 3 May 2011

Bin Laden accusations stoke US-Pakistan tension

Bin Laden Accusations Stoke Us Pakistan Tension

Mistrust between Pakistan and the United States deepened on Tuesday as the CIA chief admitted the Pakistanis were kept out of the loop on the Osama bin Laden raid for fear he would have been tipped off.

Leon Panetta’s comments were the most direct yet from United States President Barack Obama’s administration since Bin Laden was killed in a US raid on Sunday, laying bare the chasm of suspicion between the United States and nuclear-armed Pakistan, a key “war-on-terror” ally.

“It was decided that any effort to work with the Pakistanis could jeopardise the mission,” the CIA director told Time magazine. “They might alert the targets,” he added in an unusually blunt and damning remark.

Senior US officials, meanwhile, were holding delicate discussions on whether to scotch any conspiracy theories by releasing a photo of Bin Laden’s corpse taken after he was shot dead in a Pakistani compound by US special forces.

The fact that Bin Laden turned up in leafy Abbottabad, home to the Pakistani equivalent of the West Point and Sandhurst military academies, just two hours’ drive north of Islamabad, has been greeted with incredulity.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari rejected as “baseless” charges that his country extends as a safe haven to extremists, but outraged US lawmakers are calling for billions of dollars in aid to be cut back or pulled entirely.

The Obama administration last year said it would seek another $2-billion for Pakistan’s military, on top of a five-year, $7,5-billion civilian package approved in 2009 aimed at weakening the allure of Islamic extremists.

‘A decade of cooperation and partnership’
US analysts on Tuesday scoured documents and computer files seized from Bin Laden’s hideout for evidence after Obama’s top counter-terrorism official John Brennan said it was “inconceivable” the al-Qaeda leader had not had some kind of support network.

For a decade, Islamabad has been America’s wary Afghan war ally, despite widespread public opposition and militant bomb attacks across the nuclear-armed country that have killed several thousand people.

But Pakistan has never been fully trusted by either Kabul or Washington, which accuse its powerful military of fostering the Afghan Taliban it spawned during the 1980s resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Pakistani intelligence officials said the nation’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency had no idea Bin Laden was holed-up in Abbottabad, despite raiding the compound in 2003 while it was still under construction.

Zardari acknowledged that the US commandos carried out the raid without Pakistani collaboration — but stressed Islamabad had initially helped to identify the al-Qaeda courier who led them to Bin Laden.

Overall, he wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece, “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 civilised world.”

‘We got him’
Bin Laden was shot above the eye in the raid by an elite team of Navy Seals on his hide-out on Sunday, raising the prospect that any photo that might be released to the public will show gruesome evidence of his death.

The commando operation, which US officials said lasted less than 40 minutes, stormed a heavily fortified $1-million compound that stood out from other properties for its towering perimeter walls and heavy security.

US officials say DNA tests have proven conclusively that the man shot dead was indeed the al-Qaeda leader and terror mastermind who boasted about the deaths of nearly 3 000 people in the September 11 attacks of 2001.

After months of top-secret planning, the operation came down to a simple command delivered by Obama on Friday — “It’s a go.”

“We got him,” Obama told his top lieutenants, who had gathered in the White House Situation Room to watch the dramatic operation unfold late on Sunday.

The high tension gripping the room had finally been broken by confirmation relayed by Panetta that the status of Bin Laden — codenamed “Geronimo” — was now “EKIA”: Enemy Killed in Action.

Of five people killed in the raid, Geronimo was identified as the tall, bearded nemesis of successive US administrations who inspired generations of jihadist fighters to take up arms first against the Soviets and then the West.

Retaliatory attacks
The United States says Bin Laden received Muslim rites before his body was “eased” into the Arabian Sea on Monday so no one could turn his grave into a shrine. Muslim leaders have condemned the sea burial.

With Pakistan’s main Taliban faction vowing vengeance, the United States said on Tuesday it was closing its consulates in the cities of Lahore and Peshawar to the public until further notice.

The US State Department warned of the potential for reprisals against Americans, while Panetta said terrorist groups “almost certainly” would try to avenge Bin Laden.

US Attorney General Eric Holder said he had ordered government agencies “to be mindful that Bin Laden’s death could result in retaliatory attacks in the Unites States or against our interests overseas”.

Hundreds late on Monday took to the streets in Quetta, a city believed to be home to the Afghan Taliban’s ruling council, in the first rally in Pakistan to honour Bin Laden, burning a US flag and chanting anti-US slogans.

A similar number offered special prayers for the deceased terror leader in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi on Tuesday, police said.

Hundreds of curious Pakistanis, meanwhile, descended on the bullet-riddled villa that hid Bin Laden from the world, some taking pictures and home videos of the battered compound where he was killed.

‘Osama is alive’
Although the compound remained firmly off limits to reporters, the police officer in charge, Qamar Hayat, told them what he had discovered inside.

“There is no bunker, nor did I see any secret place where one could hide. There is no cellar,” he said.

“The belongings of the inmates are intact, including beds, mattresses, a table, chairs and other furniture items,” he said.

Footage obtained on Monday by the US network ABC inside the Abbottabad house showed blood on the floor in one room and broken computers in another, stripped of their hard drives.

Hundreds of people, including women and children, gathered outside the house to get a look at the now notorious high-walled villa as dozens of youths staged a demo outside mocking the United States and shouting “Osama is alive”.

Leaders in both Afghanistan and India have said Bin Laden’s discovery so close to Islamabad vindicated their claims of double-dealing by Pakistan’s military and intelligence powerbrokers. — AFP