Internal Pakistani Review of 'Incompetent' Bin Laden Hunt Fills in the Blanks

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Al Jazeera obtained a copy of an unreleased report compiled by the Pakistani government in the wake of the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in May 2011. It provides new details about the Al Qaeda leader's escape into Pakistan, his compound, and the night of the Navy SEAL op.

The story as summarized by the Pakistani news agency Dawn largely comports with the account we've learned from the U.S. government (by way of Kathryn Bigelow). The U.S. discovered that Abu Ahmed Ali Kuwaiti was acting as an aide or courier to bin Laden and asked Pakistan to help track him, without providing context for his role.

But Pakistan's review of the raid on the compound takes a distinctly different tone than Zero Dark ThirtyAl Jazeera reports:

The Commission’s 336-page report is scathing, holding both the government and the military responsible for "gross incompetence" leading to "collective failures" that allowed both Bin Laden to escape detection, and the United States to perpetrate "an act of war".

That conclusion stems from interviews with more than 200 witnesses, including members of bin Laden's family and senior Pakistani officials. Here's what we learned.

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How bin Laden got to Abbottabad

Al Jazeera details bin Laden's moves.

  • December 2001: Bin Laden escapes the battle of Tora Bora in Afghanistan.
  • Early 2002: He moves to South Waziristan, accompanied by his family.
  • Later in 2002: Bin Laden, now accompanied by Ali Kuwaiti and Kuwaiti's brother Ibrahim (or Ibrar) and their families, moves to the Swat Valley.
  • Early 2003: After the arrest of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the group moves to Haripur, north of Islamabad.
  • October 2005: The group moves to the compound in Abbottabad.

Ibrahim's wife Maryam testified that, while driving from a bazaar in the Swat Valley in 2002, the group—including bin Laden—was stopped for speeding by a police officer. Perhaps obviously, no one was detained.

The report also indicates that by 2005, Pakistani authorities had largely given up the search for bin Laden.

The compound

For reference, an image of the compound from the Department of Defense.

Dawn explains the living situation at the compound.

It contained three complexes. “One open compound, an annexe where Kuwaiti and his family lived and the main three storey house,” said the source, adding that the two top storeys were used by OBL and his family.

The youngest wife stayed on the second floor while the older wives – Sharifa and Khaira – stayed on the lower floor.

Ibrar and his wife lived on the ground floor.

The "annex" where Kuwaiti lived is presumably that at the bottom of the diagram. The three-story house is at center. The Pakistani report suggests that its height should have been a red flag. Buildings in the area needed special authorization for third floors.

Bin Laden wasn't confined to that house for the six years he lived there. One technique he used to foil observers was one straight out of George W. Bush's playbook. Al Jazeera writes that he "owned 'a cowboy hat', which he wore when he moved around the compound to avoid detection from above."

Maryam also explained what happened with the polio vaccination visit. According to her testimony, "Once a female nurse came to the house and administered polio drops to her children, but not to the Arab children"—the Arab children being bin Laden's. That nurse worked for the doctor implicated as being an assistant to the CIA's efforts. (Since those reports emerged, several health workers have been killed in Pakistan.) She herself testified that the doctor phoned Ibrahim's family to discuss the vaccines.

The raid in Abbottabad

The report offers the following timeline for the raid. Among other details, it notes that the power was off in the compound when the raid began.

The level of detail in the report is impressive; for example, there were 30 bullets fired by the SEALs. Dawn reports that "OBL’s first reaction was to tell his family to stay calm and recite the kalima."

In two places, the Pakistani investigators suggest that U.S. assistance workers may have played a role in facilitating the raid, beyond the question of the vaccinations. "Some of the US pilots," the report notes, "may have directly or indirectly benefitted from the US flood relief air operations of August-October, 2012 in the same general area." Further:

[T]he stealth helicopters were probably guided by ground operators who were already in place around the OBL Compound. In this regard there were reports of "suspicious acitivites" indicating CIA ground support for the planning and implementation of the raid. These included the cutting of trees to clear the approach of the helicopters, the hiring of a house in the vicinity of the OBL Compound by supposed USAID employees, and the movement of four to five Prado/Land Cruisers from the US embassy in Islamabad towards Peshawar/Abbottabad.

There's one page missing from the full report, Al Jazeera notes. That page apparently articulates a list of demands made by the United States to Pakistan's then president Pervez Musharraf after the 9/11 attacks.

Read the full report via Al Jazeera. Photo: Bin Laden watches TV at his compound. (AP)

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.