ISLAMABAD: As the biggest manhunt in history reached its gory conclusion in the early hours of Monday, details of the US special forces’ highly secretive operation in Abbottabad started trickling in on Monday.
Though civil and military officials are tight-lipped over the conduct of the operation, it transpired that the US Navy SEALs who had set out on the “kill bin Laden operation” on board two helicopters had actually flown from a nearby airbase at Tarbela.
“A US military C-130 transport plane, equipped with hi-tech intelligence gadgets, also flew from the same base to support the highly secretive operation,” a source told The Express Tribune. And former chief of Pakistan’s top spy agency ISI also endorsed the information. “A large number of US troops, along with their war machine, have been maintaining presence at Tarbela since long,” said Lt-Gen (retd) Hamid Gul.
For over two hours the helicopters and the C-130 aircraft hovered over the palatial mansion where bin Laden was hiding before launching the assault, witnesses told The Express Tribune.
The compound in Bilal Town sits virtually adjacent to the grounds of the Pakistan Military Academy Kakul. And in an ironic twist, Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani had visited the PMA late last month, where he proclaimed that Pakistan had broken the back of the forces of terrorism.
Witnesses said that the C-130 aircraft flew over the area for over five hours even while the mission was accomplished. Officials said that Pakistan’s air defence system had caught the C-130 on their radars albeit the sophisticated plane had the facility to jam all defence communication system including radars.
“Due to disorientation on the part of the pilots, darkness and unfamiliar mountainous terrain, one of the choppers crashed in the compound during the operation,” a senior official said requesting anonymity.
Ground troops then stormed the compound where Bin Laden was living along with his family and some trusted aides. US counter-terrorism official John Brennan told the media in Washington that bin Laden used his wife as human shield. “There was family at that compound, and there was a female who was, in fact, in the line of fire that reportedly was used as a shield to shield bin Laden from the incoming fire,” Brennan said.
The senior official told The Express Tribune that the US Navy SEALs also retrieved the bodies of bin Laden and his associates and of those US troops killed in the operation.
A first senior administration officer of the White House told the media in Washington that a small team of US Navy SEALs carried out the operation.
But, at least two senior military officials in Pakistan disagreed. They, instead, said it was not possible for a “small team” of US forces to carry out such an operation against the most dangerous terrorist.
Though President Barack Obama has announced the death of bin Laden, some analysts in Pakistan are still sceptical about the veracity of Obama’s claim. Pakistan’s former ambassador in Afghanistan Rustam Shah Mohmand and tribal affairs expert Brigadier (retd) Mehmood Shah said that the United States should have offered the world some proof, at least pictures of his body, which US officials say, has been buried in the Arabian Sea since bin Laden’s home country Saudi Arabia had refused to accept his remains.
In Washington US lawmakers said that photographs of Bin Laden’s corpse may have to be released to smother any effort to claim he survived the raid.
“It may be necessary to release the pictures – as gruesome as they undoubtedly will be, because he’s been shot in the head – to quell any doubts that this somehow is a ruse that the American government has carried out,” said Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman.
Lt-Gen Gul, however, refuses to accept that Bin Laden was killed in Sunday night’s operation. He said that the al Qaeda kingpin had died years ago.
Endorsing Gul’s claim some analysts believe the “drama” was staged to provide justification for an honourable exit for the US-led coalition troops from Afghanistan where they have been bogged down in a fight against a resilient Taliban insurgency.
Withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan according to a schedule announced by President Obama is essential as the support for the war was dwindling among the Americans. “It would have been a source of serious embarrassment for the US to exit Afghanistan without killing Bin Laden, who had allegedly masterminded the 9/11 attacks on the United States,” said one analyst.
With additional input from Wires
Published in The Express Tribune, May 3rd, 2011.