Suspicion rises over what Pakistan knew

By Karin Brulliard and Karen DeYoung
Washington Post
Updated 5/2/2011 10:47 PM
  • A truck carries what is thought to be parts of the wreckage of a helicopter that crashed next to the wall of a Pakistan compound where Osama bin Laden was shot and killed.

    A truck carries what is thought to be parts of the wreckage of a helicopter that crashed next to the wall of a Pakistan compound where Osama bin Laden was shot and killed. Associated Press

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Even in a neighborhood of roomy modern residences, the three-story white house stood out. Down the street from an elite Pakistani military academy, the house was eight times as large as others nearby. Its razor-wire-topped walls were higher. Its occupants acted mysteriously, neighbors said, burning trash that they dared not place outside.

With the killing of Osama bin Laden, the mystery of who lived in the Abbottabad house was solved. And that resolution revealed that the world's most wanted man had been living for years not only in relative comfort, but also at the doorstep of Pakistan's powerful army.

The disclosure threatened to unravel the remaining threads in a U.S.-Pakistan relationship that is severely strained by mistrust.

The scene of bin Laden's killing immediately raised questions about how Pakistan's powerful military, which U.S. officials have long suspected of tolerating and harboring Islamist militants, could not have known about bin Laden's presence -- and even whether it had provided him shelter. Bin Laden joined a long list of high-value terrorism suspects captured or killed in recent years not in Pakistan's remote tribal belt, but in the sprawling urban centers in the heart of the country.

"Either we're dealing with an extraordinarily incompetent military and army and intelligence agency, or at some level they were complicit," said Shaun Gregory, a Pakistan scholar at the University of Bradford in the United Kingdom.

Abbottabad, a city north of Islamabad where bin Laden had been hiding, has long been a refuge for tourists and a hub for Pakistan's military, with two infantry regiments based there. Bin Laden's home was in a neighborhood well traveled by military vehicles and rife with military families.

In Washington, convictions deepened that Pakistan -- which has accepted billions of dollars in military aid since allying itself with the United States in 2001 in counterterrorism efforts -- was either uncommitted to the hunt for terrorists on its soil or betraying the United States by protecting them. U.S. officials have long said that bin Laden was in Pakistan, and Pakistan has long called on the United States to provide proof.

But in the end, after a decade-long hunt, it appeared that the United States did not trust Pakistan enough to do so. American officials insisted that Pakistan was not told about the operation until U.S. forces had left Pakistani airspace.

Officials were cryptic about whether Pakistani intelligence had aided the operation in any way. The Pakistanis "were not aware of our interest in this compound, but they provided us information attached to it to help us complete the robust intelligence case that eventually carried the day," said a senior U.S. intelligence official.

"I think it's inconceivable that bin Laden did not have a support system in [Pakistan] that allowed him to remain there for an extended period of time," said John Brennan, President Obama's top counterterrorism adviser. "I am not going to speculate about what type of support he might have had on an official basis inside Pakistan."