Islamabad: The United States had strong ground support – a fact that went unnoticed by the ISI – during the operation that led to the killing of Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011, the commission probing the incident maintains.
The Abbottabad Commission is convinced that the US had an extensive ground network with one Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) network locating him in his compound at Abbottabad and another ascertaining his presence there, the Dawn newspaper reported.
The commission, in its findings, said that the presence of CIA agents for tracking bin Laden was well known prior to 2005 but, surprisingly, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan stopped its manhunt thinking that the US had given up the chase under the assumption that the 9/11 mastermind was dead.
The Dawn report quoted the commission as stating that there was an influx of CIA agents into Pakistan in the form NGO workers after the decline in ISI-CIA links because of the deteorating bilateral ties.
The issuance of a large number of visas by then Pakistani ambassador to the US, Hussain Haqqani, also helped the American spies gain entry to Pakistan, according to the commission’s findings.
The evening before the May 2, 2011, US Navy Seals’ raid at the bin Laden compound, vans were seen leaving the US embassy for Abbottabad, there were people on the ground telling neighbours of the bin Laden compound to stay indoors, and trees near the compound were cut to facilitate US helicopters to land, all of which support the theory of a strong ground presence.
The ruse of vaccination carried out by the now-jailed doctor, Shakeel Afridi, to conform bin Laden’s presence at the location prior to the operation, codenamed Operation Neptune Star, also pointed to a strong ground network, the newspaper quoted the commission as stating.
The commission also found that the ISI did not notice the strong CIA network and, after the operation, did little to unearth the network except for the Pakistan military reducing the number of known CIA agents in the country, the newspaper said.