Osama killing: Pak knew US plans?

Last Updated: Wed, Sep 12, 2012 18:36 hrs

Skeletons of slain Al Qaida chief Osama bin Laden are falling out of the cupboards of both the United States and Pakistan. With the 9/11 anniversary just observed, this should not come as a surprise. An anniversary is the time for publishing books and making disclosures. They sell well among the world for ever hungry for more and more about the man who shook the world and changed its face, perhaps, for ever. Two books are ready to whet this appetite.

Since Osama was killed last year, the hunger is more and more about how it was achieved - in short, how the man hiding from the world for a decade was detected and killed in an incredible operation. That it happened in Pakistan, for long suspected, but for ever in denial, of Osama's whereabouts, leave alone having sheltered him for at least five years, is of immense interest in India, next-door, as anywhere else.

For many Indians, especially in the corridors of the Ministry of External Affairs and among the intelligence circles and the vast community of academics, particularly those engaged in security issues, it is we-told-you-so story of confirmation and vindication.

And it is of immense interest in the United States and American-watchers, since Osama is an election issue, what with credit being taken by President Barack Obama, seeking re-election. The November election is not far off. Not surprisingly, there is 'surprise' being expressed by the US government by the news that a US Navy Seal who participated in the raid on Osama bin Laden´s compound in Pakistan has written a book about the operation in which the al-Qaida leader was killed.

The surprise is a way of distancing itself from the disclosure and a disclaimer, which may or may not be true. This is because the Obama administration would like the 'truth' to be told of the operation and the achievement that, according to many America watchers, has ensured Obama's re-election.

´No Easy Day: The First-hand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama bin Laden´ was written by a navy Seal under the pseudonym Mark Owen with co-author Kevin Maurer. It is to be released next month on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

It was not vetted by government agencies to ensure that no secrets were revealed, reports from Washington have said. We do not know if the navy seal has retired from service and is a free citizen - albeit bound by secrecy code. We do not know if he had an official nod, or if he chose to defy the restrictions for lure of money.

The reports also do not give details of the co-author who, in all likelihood, may be a professional writer of some standing, capable of writing a clear text and dramatizing it where needed to ensure the book's sale - something the navy seal would not be capable of.

However, Christine Ball, a spokeswoman for the publisher, Dutton, said, "The book was vetted by a former special operations attorney. He vetted it for tactical, technical, and procedural information as well as information that could be considered classified by compilation and found it to be without risk to national security."

So, while the principal writer remains anonymous, the publishers have played safe. Not unusual in the American publishing world. That the book may impact the debate in the presidential election seems clear. If Obama is taking the credit, his opponent Mitt Romney would do everything to undo it.

The book will be published at a time when Obama administration has been roiled by controversy over national security leaks ahead of the November 6 presidential election. Republicans have charged that President Barack Obama´s administration has engaged in selective leaks to bolster the Democrat´s national security credentials. The White House denies those accusations.

But the book on the bin Laden raid appeared to catch officials off guard, the reports from Washington claim. "We learned about this book on Thursday from press reports. We haven´t reviewed it and don´t know what it says," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said.

The Pentagon said it hadn´t vetted the book or helped provide information to the authors. There are at least two Pentagon regulations requiring the defence department review writings by retired troops that contain sensitive material.

The other book, also published in the US with a sure worldwide market, promises to make for even more sensational reading. This is because the focus is both the US and Pakistan and raised many questions afresh. It claims that a Pakistan Army colonel working in the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) had provided vital help to the US's Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in tracing bin Laden. This should come as a surprise as the CIA and Pakistan's intelligence network, especially the ISI have been long-time collaborators.

It is a given that the US and the West, that funded and ran the operations from Pakistan against the Soviet-backed regimes in Kabul have only tightened their hold on their network in Pakistan through the last decade and continue to work together - notwithstanding the stand-off of the last many months.

Despite that, there is surprise an embarrassment is awaiting Pakistan, especially its military, by the book's claim that Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani may have been briefed by the US on its operation to kill Osama bin Laden, some five months in advance. Details of the book are still sketchy. Why Kayani did not alert the ISI and why the ISI did not shift bin Laden from Abbottabad shall not be known immediately.

Perhaps, this can be left to future books and disclosures - provided the US finds that in its national interest. 'Leading from Behind: The Reluctant President and the Advisors Who Decide for Him´, penned by eminent American journalist Richard Miniter, hit the stands on August 21.

The new book also says that land of the Abbottabad compound, where the al-Qaida leader lived with his family, was "carved out" from the Pakistan Military Academy compound at Kakul.

"A colonel in Pakistan´s feared intelligence service, the Inter-Services Institute or ISI, provided vital help in locating Bin Laden when he walked into the CIA´s Islamabad station in August 2010," says the book. This may seem incredible, but not impossible. The colonel may be interacting with the CIA as part of his job and may have decided to spill the beans.

Bin Laden was killed by US Navy SEALs inside his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan in May 2011. Even if this claim is denied, the one the book claims, or just indicates, about Kayani being briefed well in advance, makes for an interesting disclosure and embarrassing for Kayani. Or, is it that Pakistan can now claim that they had invited'' the US to take away Osama and cooperated with it, but that Osama, since he resisted being taken, was unfortunately killed?

Miniter claims that Kayani may have been briefed in December 2010, five months before the night-time raid on bin Laden´s concrete castle. This is not unlikely if one recalls how the US goes in for the jugular to gain and ensure Pakistani compliance of American wishes. Was not the Pakistani general told that if his country did not comply and cooperate in the campaign against the Taliban from Kabul in October 2001, Pakistan would be "back to stone age"?

And in a different context and a different situation, did not Bush Junior, then the US president, confront his Pakistani counterpart, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, with documentary and photographic evidence of Dr A Q Khan being engaged in smuggling of nuclear secrets and devices.

This happened in 2003 and Musharraf had to disgrace and detain Khan, a national hero. Back to Abbottabad operation, Miniter claims: "Far from taking a risk, there are indications that a cover story had been developed with the Pakistani military and that Obama had their tacit consent for the mission."

Miniter, a former reporter with ´The Wall Street Journal´ and ´The Washington Post´, says: "In a never-before-reported account, Pakistan was more involved in the bin Laden operation than Obama´s team admitted. When the CIA revealed that an ISI colonel had contacted the CIA in Islamabad and offered information about bin Laden, a debate followed."

The season of disclosures that impacts the American presidential election and US-Pak relations may remain in bloom for some weeks.

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