WASHINGTON: The United States got to Osama bin Laden with Pakistan’s help, but disclosed the operation in a manner that made the country look like a villain, according to Seymour M. Hersh, an American investigative journalist and author.
In a story published in the London Review of Books on Sunday, Mr Hersh described the official US version of the so-called “Operation Neptune Spear” as a work of fiction, a fairy-tale.
Know more: Pakistani officials reject claims of ISI handling bin Laden
He noted that the White House still maintains the mission was an all-American affair, and that senior generals of the Pakistan Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) were not told about the raid in advance.
“This is false, as are many other elements of the Obama administration’s account. The White House’s story might have been written by Lewis Carroll (the author of “Alice in the Wonderland).”
He argues that if Bin Laden would seek a hideout he would not go for a resort town forty miles from Islamabad.
Would OBL consider it “the safest place to live and command Al Qaeda’s operations?” he asks. “The most blatant lie was that Pakistan’s two most senior military leaders – (retired) Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani (who was chief of the army staff at the time), and Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, director general of the ISI – were never informed of the US mission,” writes Mr Hersh.
In an interview to media, Mr Hersh said the operation that ultimately led to OBL’s death began with a walk-in.
“In Aug 2010 a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer approached Jonathan Bank, then the CIA’s station chief at the US embassy in Islamabad. He offered to tell the CIA where to find (Osama) bin Laden in return for the reward that Washington had offered in 2001.”
The former intelligence official, Mr Hersh said, was a military man who was now living in Washington and working for the CIA as a consultant. “I cannot tell you more about him because it would not be appropriate.”
Mr Hersh rejected the suggestion that Osama bin Laden was living in his own hideout and was free to move around. OBL was an ISI prisoner and never moved except under their supervision, he said.
Mr Hersh said the Saudi government also knew about it and had advised the Pakistanis to keep OBL as a prisoner.
He said when the Americans contacted the Pakistani government and asked for OBL, the ISI insisted that he be killed and his death should be announced a week after the operation.
The Americans were required to say that the Al Qaeda chief was found in a mountainous region in the Hindu Kush so that neither Pakistan nor Afghanistan could be blamed for keeping him, Mr Hersh said.
The author said the ISI wanted him dead because “they did not want a witness”.
According to him, the Americans set up an observation post in Abbottabad and later informed the ISI. Before the operation, the ISI set up a cell in Ghazi, Tarbela, where “one man from the SEALs and two communicators” practised the raid.
Mr Hersh said that President Barack Obama did not consult the then army or ISI chief, Generals Kayani and Pasha, before releasing the cover story that he shared with his nation in a live broadcast.
“The cover story trashed Pakistan. It was very embarrassing for them,” said Mr Hersh. “Pakistan has a good army, not a bad army, but the cover story made it look bad.”
Mr Hersh also said that Shakil Afridi, the physician now jailed in Peshawar for his links to the CIA, was a CIA asset but he did not know about the operation. He was used as a cover to hide the real story.
The Americans, and the Pakistanis, wanted to protect Amir Aziz, a doctor and a major in the Pakistani army. The ISI had moved Dr Aziz close to the compound where they had kept OBL because he was on his deathbed when found.
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