Now that the cheering has mostly quieted from last night’s news that we finally nailed Osama bin Laden, serious questions are being asked about Pakistan’s role, if any, in sheltering America’s arch-enemy. Consider this excerpt from Philip Klein’s article on how the mission went down:
Last August, intelligence officials tracked the [two couriers] to their residence in Abbottabad, Pakistan, a relatively wealthy town 35 miles north of Islamabad where many retired military officers live.
“When we saw the compound where the brothers lived, we were shocked by what we saw,” a senior administration official said.
The compound was eight times larger than any other home in the area. It was surrounded by walls measuring 12 feet to 18 feet that were topped with barbed wire. There were additional inner walls that sectioned off parts of the compound and entry was restricted by two security gates. And the residents burned their trash instead of leaving it outside for pickup. There was a three-story house on the site, with a 7-foot privacy wall on the top floor.
While the two brothers, the couriers, had no known source of income, the compound was built in 2005 and valued at $1 million. That led intelligence officials to conclude that it must have been built to hold a high-value member of Al Qaeda.
Further intelligence gathering found that there was another family who lived on the compound which had a size and makeup that matched the bin Laden members who would have most likely been with Osama.
After exploring every angle for months, they concluded that all signs pointed to this being bin Laden’s residence.
So, here we have the most wanted man in the world, living comfortably with some of his family in a specially built mansion in Abbottabad(1), just a few miles from the Pakistani capital. A town that is a brigade headquarters for a Pakistani Army division and also houses a military academy.
Yet, somehow, no one noticed bin Laden was there?
In The New Yorker, Dexter Filkins asks the question that’s on a lot of people’s minds, right now:
Now that Osama is dead, the most intriguing question is this: Did any Pakistani officials help hide him?
We’re entitled to ask. Ever since 9/11—indeed, even before—Pakistan’s military and intelligence services have played a high-stakes double game. They’ve supported American efforts to kill and capture Al Qaeda fighters, and they have been lavished with billions of American dollars in return. At the same time, elements of those same military and intelligence services, particularly those inside Inter-Service Intelligence, or the I.S.I., have provided support for America’s enemies, namely the Taliban and its lethal off-shoot, the Haqqani network. American officials are fully aware of the double-game, and to say it frustrates them would be an understatement. For a decade, Pakistan’s role has been one of the great unmovable paradoxes of America’s war.
Pakistan’s double-dealing has been a dirty, semi-open secret in this war since it started. Filkins rightly points out that several high-ranking Al Qaeda operatives have been caught in Pakistani cities with Pakistani assitance and that there is no hard evidence that the ISI or other Pakistani agency was sheltering them.
But it is at the same time true that Islamist elements are strong in the ISI and Pakistani military, that Pakistan nurtured the birth of the Taliban –Al Qaeda’s ally– and has a longstanding relationship with them. Pakistan has also fostered and supported jihadist terror groups that have struck India time and again. (And also the attempted bombing of Times Square.)
So it is fair to ask just what Pakistan knew about bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad, how long they knew it, and why they didn’t tell us. We give them a boatload of money, Al Qaeda and its allies have cost us a lot of blood and treasure, and we have a right to some straight answers — now.
PS: Here are a couple of more questions to chew over: Given Pakistan’s support for numerous murderous terror groups, why are they not on the list of state-sponsors of terrorism? Islamabad seems to be giving Tehran a run for its money in that department. And now that bin Laden has gone to meet his virgin goats, do we even need Pakistan anymore?
(1) “Abbottabad?” Is there a “Costelloabad,” too?
UPDATE: Bill Roggio at Threat Matrix has a very good analysis of why Pakistan was complicit in protecting Osama bin Laden. You’ll want to rad the whole thing, but I want to quote the final section that offers a very strong clue: Osama’s demonstrated confidence that he was safe:
While it is next to impossible to know the calculations made by bin Laden to shelter in a Pakistani city, it isn’t a stretch to say that he was confident enough to live in Abbottabad for an extended period of time because he felt that he, and his family, would be safe. Since his ouster from Sudan in 1996, bin Laden has been wary about entrusting his personal security to states. Yet he had to believe that there was little to no risk in sheltering in a city with a heavy military presence in a compound that gave all indications it housed a very important person. Bin Laden or his handlers had to be confident that the mansion would not be disturbed by Pakistan’s military and intelligence services. And to be confident, they must have had assurances that bin Laden would not be touched by Pakistani security forces.
Remember that the next time Pakistan comes up for foreign aid.
(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)