Pakistani intelligence officials knew Osama bin Laden was in their country long before he was killed in a raid by Navy SEALs in 2011 — and they allowed him to travel around freely, says a book excerpt published on Wednesday in the New York Times.
The United States most likely learned that information "in the days after the raid," writes Carlotta Gall
, who covered Afghanistan and Pakistan for the Times from 2001 to 2013.
Her book — "The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001-2014"
— is to be published next month.
"Pakistan had much to gain from harboring bin Laden" and by maintaining relations with the Taliban and al-Qaida, Gall writes. "Pakistan could leverage the groups' militant activity in order to continue receiving funding from the United States while also having continued influence in Afghanistan.
"Of course, Pakistan continues to deny these claims and the White House claimed there was 'no smoking gun' linking bin Laden and the Pakistani government or intelligence services," she writes.
Gall's book resulted from two years of research, and the Times excerpted a chapter under the headline "What Pakistan Knew About Bin Laden."
Bin Laden, 54, died when Navy SEALs raided his compound on May 2, 2011, in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Four others died in the attack, including a son of bin Laden. U.S. forces then took bin Laden's body to Afghanistan for identification before burying it at sea within 24 hours of his death.
Al-Qaida confirmed the death of its leader four days later in posts to militant websites, vowing to avenge the killing.
Since his death, Pakistan has come under heavy fire for the country's apparent harboring of terrorists, even though officials have repeatedly said they did not know bin Laden was in the country.
The agency also has long been accused of supporting and training the Taliban. From the 1990s to 2001, the Pakistani intelligence agency openly financed and supported the Taliban during the Afghanistan civil war.
According to Gall's book, bin Laden's whereabouts in Pakistan fell under the purview of the country's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, which was headed by Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha.
In fact, ISI had a special desk dedicated to bin Laden — and the leader's Abbottabad compound was within a mile of one of Pakistan's top military academies.
"It’s through that agency that Pakistan’s true relationship to militant extremism can be discerned — a fact that the United States was slow to appreciate, and later refused to face directly, for fear of setting off a greater confrontation with a powerful Muslim nation," Gall writes.
While in Pakistan, the al-Qaida leader "did not rely only on correspondence," she says. "He occasionally traveled to meet aides and fellow militants, one Pakistani security official told me. 'Osama was moving around,' he said, adding that he heard so from jihadi sources. 'You cannot run a movement without contact with people.'"
"Bin Laden traveled in plain sight, his convoys always knowingly waved through any security checkpoints," Gall writes.
The White House had direct evidence that Pasha knew of the al-Qaida leader's presence in Abbottabad, she says.
"The information came from a senior United States official, and I guessed that the Americans had intercepted a phone call of Pasha’s or one about him in the days after the raid," Gall writes.
"'He knew of Osama’s whereabouts, yes,' the Pakistani official told me," she adds, referring to Pasha.
"But in the weeks and months after the raid, Pasha and the ISI press office strenuously denied they had any knowledge of bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad."
Gall then passed on the information to her Times colleagues, who "began questioning officials in Washington about which high-ranking officials in Pakistan might also have been aware of bin Laden’s whereabouts, but everyone suddenly clammed up."
"It was as if a decision had been made to contain the damage to the relationship between the two governments. 'There’s no smoking gun,' officials in the Obama administration began to say," Gall writes.
"America's failure to fully understand and actively confront Pakistan on its support and export of terrorism is one of the primary reasons [Afghan] President [Hamid] Karzai has become so disillusioned with the United States," she writes.
"As American and NATO troops prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of this year, the Pakistani military and its Taliban proxy forces lie in wait, as much a threat as any that existed in 2001."
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