Pakistan’s bin Laden Report: What You Need to Know

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A leaked Pakistani report on the May 1, 2011, U.S. raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound provides a firsthand view into the dysfunctions of a Pakistani government that both managed to play host to the world’s most wanted man and then failed to react to the U.S. operation that had to breach Pakistani sovereignty in order to kill him.

The Pakistani government established the Abbottabad Commission a month after the raid to investigate what was then a source of profound national humiliation. Led by the senior judge of Pakistan’s Supreme Court and comprising three retired military and police officers, the commission had a mandate to report on government lapses and propose recommendations.

From the outset, the report notes, the commission faced concerns that the government would suppress the report. “Accordingly, the commission respectfully insists that in the national interest the government of Pakistan discharge its obligation to make this report and its findings and recommendations public in both English and Urdu languages without delay,” the report says.

But the report was not released to the public until al-Jazeera published it today.

Here’s a roundup of five takeaways from the scathing report:

1. The Pakistani government was incompetent.

“The whole episode of the U.S. assassination mission of May 2, 2011, and the Pakistan government’s response before, during and after appears in large part to be a story of complacency, ignorance, negligence, incompetence, irresponsibility and possibly worse at various levels inside and outside the government.”

2. Bin Laden moved freely throughout Pakistan and continued coordinating al-Qaeda attacks.

Bin Laden entered Pakistan in early 2002 and remained almost entirely unmolested for nearly a decade in which time he remained active in planning al-Qaeda’s future attacks.

Once, bin Laden’s car was stopped for speeding. Ibrahim al-Kuwaiti, his guard and courier, “quickly settled the matter,” and bin Laden drove off.

In 2005, bin Laden and his entourage of family members, al-Kuwaiti and his family too moved to their newly constructed compound in Abbottabad, which was equipped with four electrical meters to conceal excessive energy use from the single compound by the large group. Bin Laden lived upstairs, often wearing a “cowboy hat” to avoid aerial detection when he moved about the compound.

Another time, al-Kuwaiti’s young daughter recognized on television her “Poor Uncle” — the name for the man who lived upstairs and never left the house. Al-Kuwaiti subsequently banned any of the women in the compound from watching television.

Lieut. General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, then Director General of Pakistan’s military intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), told the commission that bin Laden “was to a degree actively planning al-Qaeda’s future operations.” While he cut off personal contact with al-Qaeda operatives following the joint ISI-CIA capture of Khalid Sheik Mohammed in 2003, bin Laden still electronically communicated with operatives.

3. Pakistan failed to protect its borders because U.S. capabilities are just too good, among other reasons.

The Pakistani Director General of Military Operations told the commission that the U.S. operation succeeded because:

“a) Stealth technology, i.e., low-radar signatures which minimized the chances of detection deep inside Pakistani territory.

b) Highly developed skills of U.S. pilots in nighttime and low-level valley flying using night-vision goggles.

c) Standby cargo helicopter with refueling capability, i.e., quick refueling at night at a preselected isolated site.

d) Availability of latest three-dimensional digital map displays like hyper-spectral digital maps. This allowed accurate mission planning of the route and landing site, besides enabling the pilots to fly at higher speeds with minimum stress.”

The commission also notes that the Pakistani air force had not deployed low-altitude radars in the hilly region between Abbottabad and the border, and that the Pakistani military had not considered the threat of American incursions. From a Pakistani perspective, except for the border with India, “the world stood still for almost a decade.”

4. The commission cannot rule out the possibility that someone in the government was complicit in hiding bin Laden.

“Given the length of stay and the changes of residence of [bin Laden] and his family in Pakistan … the possibility of some such direct or indirect and ‘plausibly deniable’ support cannot be ruled out, at least, at some level outside formal structures of the intelligence establishment.”

5. Those sources of support likely existed in the country’s notorious military intelligence apparatus, the ISI, which is known for its ties to militant groups in the region.

“A workable mechanism for intelligence sharing needs to be created, such as the Department of Homeland Security in the U.S. … Unless [reform] happens, relations between the intelligence community and the people will remain adversarial and counterproductive. Instead of Pakistan making the transition from a dysfunctional security state to a functioning development state it will run the risk of becoming further degraded to an intelligence and police state.”

“In the premier intelligence institution, religiosity replaced accountability.”