WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration has seen no evidence Pakistan's government knew Osama bin Laden was living in that country before his killing last week by U.S. forces, the U.S. national security adviser said Sunday.
"I can tell you directly that -- I've not seen evidence that would tell us that the political, the military, or the intelligence leadership had foreknowledge -- of bin Laden," Tom Donilon told NBC's "Meet the Press" when asked if Pakistan was guilty of harboring the al Qaeda leader.
But he added bin Laden's residence for several years inside a compound in Abbottabad, 35 miles north of the capital, Islamabad, "needs to be investigated.
"The Pakistanis have said they're going to investigate," Donilon said. "This is a very big issue in Pakistan right now. How could this have happened in Pakistan? We need to investigate it. We need to work with the Pakistanis. And we're pressing the Pakistanis on this investigation."
He said Pakistani officials also needed to provide U.S authorities with intelligence they had gathered from the compound where bin Laden was killed, including access to three wives who are in Pakistani custody.
But he added that despite difficulties in the U.S.-Pakistani relationship, "We've also had to work very closely with Pakistan in our counter-terror efforts. More terrorists and extremists have been captured or killed in Pakistan than anyplace else."
Pakistan, heavily dependent on billions of dollars in U.S. aid, is under intense pressure to explain how bin Laden could have spent so many years undetected just a few hours' drive from its intelligence headquarters in the capital.
Senior Pakistani officials said Saturday that bin Laden may have lived in Pakistan for more than seven years before he was shot to death by U.S. Navy SEALs.
One of bin Laden's widows told Pakistani investigators that he stayed in a village for nearly 2 1/2 years before moving to the nearby garrison town of Abbottabad.
The wife, Amal Ahmed Abdulfattah, said bin Laden and his family had spent five years in Abbottabad, where one of the most elaborate manhunts in history ended Monday.
Suspicions have deepened that Pakistan's pervasive Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency, which has a long history of contacts with militant groups, may have had ties with bin Laden -- or that at least some of its agents did. The agency has been described as a state within a state.
Pakistan has dismissed such suggestions and says it has paid the highest price in human life and money supporting the U.S. war on militancy launched after bin Laden's followers staged the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
Donilon said the killing of bin Laden was "a real blow" to the al Qaeda militant network.
He said an administration assessment at the end of last year determined that al Qaeda was in its weakest shape since 2001, although still dangerous.
"With the steps that we took with the assault on the compound in Pakistan and the killing of Osama bin Laden, they are even weaker still," he said.
Donilon declined to discuss if evidence uncovered at bin Laden's compound revealed evidence of specific al Qaeda plots against the United States, but said, "It's absolutely critical for us to remain vigilant as we continue to press this organization."
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