Islamabad: Osama bin Laden was able to avoid detection and live in plain sight for almost a decade due to the incompetence and negligence of Pakistan's intelligence and security services, Pakistan's official report into his killing concluded on Monday.
Following a decade-long hunt, the CIA tracked down the al Qaeda leader in 2011 to a compound within sight of an elite Pakistani military academy in Abbottabad, a city close to the capital Islamabad. In a secret night-time mission by US Navy SEALs, the world's most wanted man was killed on May 2 that year in an episode that humiliated Pakistan's military and heavily strained ties between the strategic allies Washington and Islamabad.
The much-anticipated 336-page report, obtained and circulated late on Monday by the Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera, offered a scathing read, with evidence of incompetence at almost every level of Pakistan's vast security apparatus. It also chastised Pakistan'p[s leadership for failing to detect CIA activities on its soil in the run-up to the raid, while criticising the United States for the "illegal manner" in which the operation was conducted.
"The US acted like a criminal thug," said the report by the Abbottabad Commission, formed a month after the raid to investigate the circumstances surrounding bin Laden's killing.
"But above all, the tragedy refers to the comprehensive failure of Pakistan to detect the presence of OBL (Osama bin Laden) on its territory for almost a decade or to discern the direction of US policy towards Pakistan that culminated in the avoidable humiliation of the people of Pakistan."
Moreover, the strongly worded report did not explicitly rule out the possible involvement of rogue elements within the Pakistani intelligence service itself - a sensitive issue even to touch on in a high-profile inquiry. "As for (failing to detect) the CIA network, there was culpable negligence and incompetence. As for the connivance, it has not been established at any level as mentioned," it said.
"Although the possibility of some degree of connivance inside or outside the government cannot be entirely discounted, no individual can be identified as guilty of connivance." Pakistan's government and security officials could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday night.
Some US officials have voiced suspicions that Pakistan's intelligence agencies sheltered bin Laden, but Pakistan has dismissed the idea. Bin Laden's network killed nearly 3,000 people when al Qaeda hijackers crashed commercial planes into New York's World Trade Center, the Pentagon outside Washington and a field in Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001.
LIFE ON THE RUN
The report draws its conclusions based on interviews with 201 witnesses including members of bin Laden's family and various government, army and intelligence officials. It offers insights into the dramatic night of his death, as well as years of his life on the run, painting a picture of a restless and paranoid man who was often on the move to avoid being caught.
According to the report, bin Laden had arrived in Pakistan in the spring or summer of 2002, at one point spending two years in Haripur before moving to the Abbottabad compound with his big family in August 2005. "All the places in Pakistan where OBL stayed are not fully known," the report stated. "But it included FATA (South Waziristan and Bajaur), Peshawar, Swat and Haripur."
It found that he had probably crossed into Pakistan from Afghanistan's Tora Bora area, where US forces were hunting him, sometime in 2002, although his family moved from Afghanistan's Kandahar to Karachi shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks. "They kept a very low profile and lived extremely frugally. They never exposed themselves to public view. They had minimum security," the report said.
"OBL successfully minimised any 'signature' of his presence. His minimal support group blended easily with the surrounding community ... His wives, children and grandchildren hardly ever emerged from the places where they stayed." It added: "No one ever visited them, not even trusted al Qaeda members."