US feared Pakistan might 'alert' bin Laden
Updated: 2011-05-05 07:55
Media and local residents gather outside the house where al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was caught and killed, in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on Tuesday. Anjum Naveed / Associated Press
WASHINGTON - CIA Director Leon Panetta said in an interview on Tuesday that officials ruled out informing Islamabad about a planned raid against Osama bin Laden's compound as they feared their Pakistani counterparts might alert the al-Qaida chief.
Panetta told Time magazine that "it was decided that any effort to work with the Pakistanis could jeopardize the mission: They might alert the targets".
For years Pakistan's government denied suspicions that bin Laden was hiding inside its borders, but a US assault force found him a mere 50 kilometers from the Pakistani capital living near a military academy.
The operation has highlighted tensions between Washington and Islamabad, with Pakistan's foreign ministry on Tuesday criticizing the "unauthorized unilateral" raid.
A strongly worded Pakistani government statement warned the US not to launch similar operations in the future. It rejected suggestions that officials knew where bin Laden was.
Still, there were other revelations that pointed to prior knowledge that the compound was linked to al-Qaida.
Pakistani intelligence agencies hunting for a top al-Qaida operative raided the house in 2003, according to a senior officer, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with the spy agency's policy.
The house was just being built at the time of the raid by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, and Abu Faraj al-Libi, al-Qaida's No 3, was not there, the official said.
US officials have said al-Libi once lived in the house and that information from him played a role in tracking the al-Qaida chief down. Al-Libi was arrested by Pakistani police after a shootout in 2005 and he was later handed over to US authorities.
The Pakistani officer said he didn't know why bin Laden would choose a house that already had been compromised.
He also insisted the ISI would have captured bin Laden if it had known he was there, and pushed back at international criticism of the agency.
"Look at our track record given the issues we have faced, the lack of funds. We have killed or captured hundreds" of extremists, said the officer. "All of a sudden one failure makes us incompetent and 10 years of effort is overlooked."
In a statement, the Pakistani government said "this event of unauthorized unilateral action cannot be taken as a rule".
"The government of Pakistan further affirms that such an event shall not serve as a future precedent for any state, including the US," it said, calling such actions a "threat to international peace and security".
The statement may be partly motivated by domestic concerns. The government and army has come under criticism following the raid by those who have accused the government of allowing Washington to violate the country's sovereignty. Islamabad has also been angered at suspicions it had been sheltering bin Laden.
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