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Bin Laden Probe Finds Pakistan 'Negligent And Incompetent'

Osama bin Laden managed to evade U.S. authorities for well over a decade. (file photo)
Osama bin Laden managed to evade U.S. authorities for well over a decade. (file photo)
A leaked report that was commissioned by Pakistan's government says Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was able to live in the country undetected for nine years because of "negligence and incompetence" at almost all levels of the security forces and government.

The 336-page report, published by the Al-Jazeera TV station, details how Pakistani authorities failed to detect bin Laden's whereabouts while he lived in six different locations in Pakistan.

The so-called Abbottabad Commission's report concludes that "the extent of incompetence, to put it mildly, was astounding, if not unbelievable."

One revelation is that a Pakistani traffic police officer could have arrested bin Laden when he stopped his car for speeding in Swat Valley, located near the northwestern border with Afghanistan, in 2002 or 2003.

The report did not specify whether the policeman let bin Laden get away because he was paid a bribe or simply failed to recognize him.

The commission scorned the failure of authorities -- including the powerful army and intelligence services -- to detect bin Laden's Abbottabad compound. The Al-Qaeda leader lived in the compound, situated near a prestigious military academy, for six years.

It said: "How the entire neighborhood, local officials, police and security and intelligence officials all missed the size, the strange shape, the barbed wire, the lack of cars and visitors, etc., over a period of nearly six years beggars belief."

Opportunity For Transparency

Ayesha Seddique, a Pakistani defense analyst who testified before the Abbottabad Commission, suggests that the report presents an opportunity for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's new government to at least propose reforms for Pakistan's entire security sector -- reforms that would make it more transparent and accountable to the civilian leadership:

"The political government could try to use this [report] to drive for [security-sector reforms] because there are several suggestions in the report itself that there could be rogue elements within the ISI (Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency) itself," says Seddique. "While [the report] absolves the top leadership, it does raise questions as to what is the nature of the organization. Is it controlled? Is it not controlled? What is happening? So there will be this debate about how to restructure the entire security establishment. That will put the political government in a conflict with the military, and therefore, you could see confrontation."

Part of a damaged helicopter lies near the compound where Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad in May 2011.
Part of a damaged helicopter lies near the compound where Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad in May 2011.

According to the leaked report, the Abbottabad Commission also criticized Pakistan's military and intelligence community for failing to uncover the CIA's hunt for bin Laden within Pakistan, as well as the nighttime U.S. raid in which four helicopters crossed the border from Afghanistan undetected.

It accuses the United States of acting "like a criminal thug" by carrying out what it called "an act of war" when it killed bin Laden during the raid on his compound in May 2011.

It also concludes that the U.S. raid was not detected because military radars were focused on Pakistan's eastern border with India instead.

The commission said it found no evidence that Pakistani officials were informed beforehand about the U.S. raid.

It also said cooperation between the CIA and the ISI in the hunt for the Al-Qaeda leader ended in 2005.

Hassan Askari, a political and defense analyst in Islamabad, notes that criticism of the United States for violating Pakistan's sovereignty was part of the initial public debate in Pakistan after the raid.

According to Askari, the new revelations in the report will shift Pakistan's public debate to the issue of why the country's security establishment failed to locate and detain the Al-Qaeda leader in the first place.

"If the government tries to go ahead and investigate the issue further, this could make the military unhappy because the agencies that are going to be investigated are either the intelligence agencies or the military," he says. "So if the government stays quiet and doesn't get into it, then I think nothing will happen. But if the government wants to act, then this can have a straining impact on civil-military relations in Pakistan."

Attempted Cover-Up?

The report notes that Pakistan's government initially tried to control the scope of the investigation after bin Laden was killed.

But it says pressure from the public and the country's parliament led, instead, to the creation of an investigative commission composed of a Supreme Court judge, a retired army officer, a retired police officer, and a diplomat.

The report urged Pakistan's government to make the results of its investigation public and to issue an apology to the people of Pakistan for the failures.

Nevertheless, Islamabad has not officially released the document. The report was published by Al-Jazeera after it was leaked to the television network by undisclosed sources.

Ahamd Sayedi, a former Afghan diplomat to Pakistan, dismissed the report's conclusions as an attempt to cover up what he alleges were deliberate attempts by Pakistan to shelter bin Laden.

"The fact is that it is impossible for Pakistan's intelligence and ISI not to have been aware that Osama bin Laden was living there for nine years," he says. "Actually, Pakistan was concerned that some other review may take place and reveal that Pakistani intelligence and government were aware [of bin Laden's whereabouts]. In that case, Pakistan could be punished at the international level. Since mere 'negligence' by Pakistan is not as serious, the country has leaked the report."

Neither Pakistan's government nor its security or intelligence services have commented on these allegations.

Written and reported by Ron Synovitz, with additional reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal correspondent Majeed Babar and RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan