Former al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was able to hide in Pakistan for nine years due to the “collective failure” of state military and intelligence authorities, a leaked Pakistani government report has revealed.
The report also outlines how “routine” incompetence at every level of civil governance structure allowed the once world’s most wanted man to move to six different locations within the country, Al Jazeera reported Monday.
The report of the Abbottabad Commission, formed in June 2011 to probe the circumstances around the killing of Bin Laden by US forces in a unilateral raid on the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, draws on testimony from more than 200 witnesses, including members of Bin Laden’s family, Pakistan’s then spy chief, senior ministers in the government and officials at every level of the military, bureaucracy and security services.
It was released by the Al Jazeera Investigative Unit on Monday, after being suppressed by the Pakistani government.
It comes on the heels of a report by AP news agency revealing that top US special operations commander, Adm William McRaven, ordered military files about the Navy SEAL raid on Bin Laden’s hideout to be purged from Defense Department computers and sent to the CIA, where they could be more easily shielded from ever being made public.
Following the US operation to kill Bin Laden in May 2011, which was avowedly conducted without the Pakistani government or military’s knowledge, the Commission was set up to examine both “how the US was able to execute a hostile military mission which lasted around three hours deep inside Pakistan”, and how Pakistan’s “intelligence establishment apparently had no idea that an international fugitive of the renown or notoriety of [Osama bin Laden] was residing in [Abbottabad]”.
The Abbottabad Commission was charged with establishing if the failures of the Pakistani government and military were due to incompetence or complicity, and was given overarching investigative powers.
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”.
Moreover, through the testimony of Bin Laden’s family members, intelligence officials and the wife of one of his couriers, the Commission was able to piece together a richly detailed image of Bin Laden’s life on the run from authorities, including details on the secluded life that he and his family led in Abbottabad and elsewhere.
It found that Bin Laden entered Pakistan in mid-2002, after narrowly escaping capture in the Battle of Tora Bora in Afghanistan in December 2001. Intelligence officials say he stayed briefly in the South Waziristan and Bajaur tribal areas of Pakistan, before moving to the northern Swat Valley to stay with his guards, Ibrahim and Abrar al-Kuwaiti, for several months.
While in Swat, Bin Laden reportedly met with Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks against the United States, in early 2003. A month later, Mohammad was captured in Rawalpindi in a joint US-Pakistani operation, and Bin Laden fled Swat.
Bin Laden turned up next in the town of Haripur, in northern Pakistan, where he stayed for two years in a rented house with two of his wives and several of his children and grandchildren.
In August 2005, they all moved to a custom-built compound in Abbottabad, a military garrison town located about 85km away from the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. He stayed there for six years, until he was killed in the US operation in May 2011.
According to the Commission’s investigations, Pakistan’s intelligence establishment had “closed the book” on Bin Laden by 2005, and was no longer actively pursuing intelligence that could lead to his capture.
This [was] a case of nothing less than a collective and sustained dereliction of duty by the political, military and intelligence leadership of the country.
Abbottabad Commission report
Moreover, it found that there had been a complete collapse of governance and law enforcement – a situation it termed “Government Implosion Syndrome”, both in the lack of intelligence on Bin Laden’s nine-year residence in Pakistan, and in the response to the US raid that killed him. It finds that “culpable negligence and incompetence at almost all levels of government can more or less be conclusively established”.
On the presence of a CIA support network to help track down Bin Laden in Pakistan without the Pakistani establishment’s knowledge, the Commission determined that “this [was] a case of nothing less than a collective and sustained dereliction of duty by the political, military and intelligence leadership of the country”.
It also found that the US violation of Pakistani sovereignty, in carrying out the raid unilaterally, had been allowed to happen due to inaccurate and outdated threat assessment within the country’s defence and strategic policy establishments.
“It is official or unofficial defence policy not to attempt to defend the country if threatened or even attacked by a military superpower like the US?” the Commission asked of several top military officers.
Military officers, including the chief of the country’s air force, testified that Pakistan’s low-level radar was on “peacetime deployment”, and hence not active on the border with Afghanistan, when the raid occurred.
The report concludes that unless there are major changes to Pakistan’s defence strategy, it remains vulnerable to a repeat of such an airborne raid.
The Commission found that the country’s “political, military intelligence and bureaucratic leadership cannot be absolved of their responsibility for the state of governance, policy planning and policy implementation that eventually rendered this national failure almost inevitable”, and calls on key national leaders to formally apologise to the country for “their dereliction of duty”.
Perhaps aware of the implications of its findings, the Commission noted that it had “apprehensions that the Commission’s report would be ignored, or even suppressed”, and urged the government to release it to the public.
It did not do so. The report was buried by the government and never released.
Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit obtained a copy of the Commission’s report, and has now released it, in full, along with accompanying coverage to help unpick the details, and implications of its findings.