Ground offensive begins: Army troops roll into Shawal Valley

Shawwal valley offensive (Credit:
Shawwal valley offensive

Pakistan Army has launched a ground offensive in North Waziristan Agency’s (NWA) mountainous Shawal Valley, regarded as the last haven of fleeing homegrown militants and their foreign cohorts. Meanwhile, the army’s fighter jets on Thursday continued to target militants’ hideouts in the agency for the fifth consecutive day, killing at least 43 suspected terrorists.

“Ground operation in Shawal, North Waziristan begins,” announced Major General Asim Salim Bajwa, the chief of army’s media-wing – Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) – on micro-blogging website Twitter.

Maj Gen Bajwa said the army chief General Raheel Sharif has directed the security forces to achieve the objectives as soon as possible. General Raheel lauded the ideal air and ground forces coordination, he said.

Meanwhile, an official of the security forces said fighter jets on Thursday targeted militants’ hideouts in Lwara Madai, Gharlamai, Ocha Bibi, Zvi Naray and several other areas of tehsil Shawal and Datta Khel in the NWA.

“These aerial attacks killed 43 militants, including 15 in Shawal and 28 in Datta Khel,” he said.

The local sources said residents of all these areas had started migrating to safer places in nearby provinces of Afghanistan, including Khost, Paktia and Paktika.

After Thursday’s strikes, the number of insurgents killed in the region this week climbed up to more than 150. The army earlier claimed its airstrikes killed 10 suspected militants on Wednesday, 18 on Tuesday, 50 on Monday and 40 on Sunday.

Since May, the military has stepped up operations in the deeply forested ravines of the Shawal Valley – which straddles North and South Waziristan agencies along the border with Afghanistan – and softened militant targets in the valley through continued airstrikes.

The deeply forested ravines of Shawal Valley and Datta Khel are popular smuggling routes between Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan, and are dotted with militant bases used as launch pads for attacks on Pakistani forces.

The area is a stronghold of Khan Sajna Said, the leader of a Taliban faction whose name the United States put on a sanctions list of ‘specially designated global terrorists” last year.

Banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan used to control all of mountainous NWA, which includes the Shawal Valley and Datta Khel, and runs along the Afghan border. But Pakistan Army recaptured most of the region in a major armed operation, codenamed Zarb-e-Azb, which was launched in June 2014.

North Waziristan used to be the Pakistani Taliban’s last key stronghold until the start of the operation. Officials claim that nearly 3,000 militants have been killed since the launch of the offensive. Authorities have now vowed to intensify operations both in the border regions and across the country.

Forces kill 12 militants in South Waziristan clash

Meanwhile, security forces also had a clash with militants in the neighbouring South Waziristan’s Asman Panga area of Lahda subdivision, where they killed 12 militants.

A security official told The Express Tribune, that a soldier was killed while two security forces’ personnel also got injured in the encounter.  He said the area where the clash took place is regarded as a stronghold of militants.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 21st, 2015

Taliban Present Gentler Face but Wield Iron Fist in Afghan District

Baghran, Helmand (Credit:
Baghran, Helmand

LASHKAR GAH, Aug 14 — As they have captured more territory in Afghanistan this year, the Taliban have twinned their military offensive with a publicity push. Their pitch goes something like this: We’ve learned the lessons from our time in power, and we’re ready to moderate a bit.

At international conferences, delegates from the Taliban — infamous for outlawing girls’ schools during their rule from 1994 to 2001 — have made a point of being willing to meet and talk with female officials. Old hard-line stances against music and photography have been softening.

But for insight into how the Taliban might rule if they succeed in holding large stretches of Afghanistan, consider Baghran district, in the southern province of Helmand.

There, where the Taliban were scarcely ever out of power, the harsh old policies of the ’90s are still in full swing. Men are hauled into jail if they shave beards, and spot turban checks are still in place to expose any fancy haircuts. And there is still no freedom for women to travel or learn.

The Taliban in Baghran are not an insurgent force but the government, and a long-established one at that.

“In Baghran, you feel like you are in a mini-emirate of the Taliban,” said a 45-year-old shopkeeper, Esmatullah Baghrani, referring to the Taliban’s formal name, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. “When I am out of Baghran, I feel like I am in a different world.”

There is no cellphone service in Baghran, reflecting the Taliban’s wishes. Instead, people communicate with the outside world through a handful of “public call offices” — phones in stores near the bazaar.

Through more than a dozen interviews with the men who answered these phone lines, as well as men standing nearby, a rare sketch of life in the Taliban’s most secure stronghold began to emerge. The New York Times also interviewed Baghran residents in person in Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital.

There is probably nowhere else in Afghanistan more completely under Taliban rule. Officially, the Afghan government acknowledges having lost only four out of roughly 400 districts to the Taliban. Of these, Baghran was the first to fall, about a decade ago.


Continue reading the main story

“You have to obey the rule of the Taliban, and you have to be a good man and not even think of bad things,” said Omar Khan, a shopkeeper. “You have to live the way Taliban want you to live: You have to wear the proper clothing, and a turban, and grow your beard, and offer your prayers in a mosque five times a day, avoid listening to music, and avoid unnecessary chats with people. You can’t meet friends at night for card games.”

But the Taliban’s rule has still proved attractive, or at least tolerable, to many rural Afghans who have endured decades of war. Residents of other parts of Helmand, who find themselves caught in the cross hairs of the war, have sought out Baghran’s relative security, migrating away from the front lines.

“People are suffering under constant war, but we don’t suffer those kinds of problems,” said Hasti Khan, a farmer in Baghran.


Continue reading the main story

Some things have changed. Public executions, a feature of the Taliban’s national rule, were halted in Baghran in 2007 after an American airstrike killed a large number of Taliban fighters and residents who had assembled for one, residents recalled.

But in most ways, the social restrictions that made the Taliban international pariahs during their reign have been resurrected in full in Baghran. Women leave home only with their husbands or male family members, and then only to visit a doctor or a few other authorized destinations. There are no girls’ schools, and education for boys is limited, too. The Taliban here converted schools to madrasas, which boys typically attend for perhaps three years before returning to family farms.

The Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, once famous for pummeling women who went out and men who played music, is back on patrol in Baghran. Vice-prevention officers often carry scissors so that they can deal, on the spot, with haircuts deemed excessively vain.

Despite the rules, many in Baghran take a few risks, here and there, continuing to meet for card games. Radios are ubiquitous and tolerated for their news stations like BBC Pashto, Mashal radio and even Voice of America. “We are not supposed to listen to music, but sometimes when the Taliban are all inside we do listen to music,” one man in Baghran said.

But Baghran’s main mud-brick prison often has 100 and sometimes twice that many transgressors, like Nazir Ahmad, 19, who served three days for his curly bangs. “It’s a style I like,” he said in an interview in Lashkar Gah, where he had come to find work.

The Taliban, which have a robust propaganda arm and a news website featuring lengthy interviews with local commanders across Afghanistan, rarely talk about Baghran.

That may be in part because of its importance in the insurgency’s lucrative narcotics business. For years, it was home to an unusual concentration of heroin processing plants, so many, in fact, that they occasionally attracted Afghan military and counternarcotics raids. As the raids intensified, the Taliban ordered heroin production to move out of Baghran so as not to undermine security there, one local man explained.

Baghran has not been entirely untouched by the war. Western and Afghan troops have occasionally conducted forays into Baghran, initially in search of Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban’s supreme leader, who Western military officials suspected might have sought refuge there after his government was toppled in late 2001. Mullah Omar died more than two years ago in a Pakistani hospital, the Afghan government recently announced.

The post-2001 Afghan government lost Baghran in a matter of three years. When a Taliban insurgency began to take shape, elders simply asked the 15 police officers in the province to quit and return home, recalled a tribal elder, Hajji Wali Mohammad, an uncle of one of those officers. With that, the Taliban became the dominant force.


Continue reading the main story


Continue reading the main story

“The government did not last long,” Omar Khan, a 35-year-old shopkeeper in Baghran, said. “People were getting used to democracy, and then the Taliban came again.”

Some Taliban officials, particularly those sent to international conferences, have grown savvier during their long exile, and they suggest that the movement has grown more moderate.

For example, the group no longer puts much effort into stamping out television or music recordings now that cellphones have become a fact of life across much of Afghanistan. Taliban-themed ringtones have become common. And the Taliban’s own propaganda wing, which provides battlefield videos and photographs of insurgent commanders and suicide bombers, makes a mockery of the old prohibition on photography and other depictions of the human form.

Where the Taliban remain an insurgency competing with the government for the people’s loyalties, the group’s social restrictions do in fact appear to have mellowed slightly, particularly in the country’s north.

“The Taliban have realized imposing Islamic laws by force will not make people admire us,” a Taliban commander named Fazlullah, who operates in Afghanistan’s far northwest, said in a recent phone interview. “It is our good governance and performance that will win people’s hearts and minds.”

Although the harsher ways have prevailed in Baghran, residents’ complaints often had less to do with the Taliban’s treatment of them than the deprivations that have taken hold: the lack of good doctors and the need to travel to other districts to buy staples, like cooking oil. And some said they were saddened by the lack of opportunities for their children, many of whom tend to work in the opium fields alongside their fathers.

Many residents who were interviewed said they were mostly satisfied with the Taliban’s rule. Some agree with the Taliban’s principles, others have come to accept them.

“I think I like the way of the Taliban,” Mr. Baghrani, the shopkeeper, said. “You live simply, the way you have been created.”

Not everyone, however, has been able to live simply. Ethnic Hazaras had been allowed relatively safe passage through Baghran, on several important market roads, in recent years. But over a month ago that suddenly changed: Hazara elders and other residents said that the Taliban’s district commander, Mullah Ghulam Hazrat Shahidmal, warned that Hazaras would no longer be allowed through, in what was seen as a troubling step back toward the targeting of minorities by the insurgents.

The only link remaining between the Kabul government and Baghran is symbolic: The government still assigns district officials to Baghran. They all serve in exile. “I have never been to Baghran,” said the district governor of Baghran, Salim Rodi, who lives in Lashkar Gah. “This job is a joke.”

His main responsibility is to occasionally remind others that the government lost Baghran long ago. He did so last year, when a new security adviser for Helmand Province complained that Mr. Rodi was not sending regular updates about the functioning of local government, like other district governors.

“I told this man: ‘You are an amazing security adviser. You don’t even know which districts are under the control of the Taliban.’ ”

Joseph Goldstein reported from Lashkar Gah, and Taimoor Shah from Kandahar,


Al Qaeda Chief Purportedly Pledges Loyalty to Mullah Mansoor

Al Qaeda chief Ayman Zawahiri (Credit:
Al Qaeda chief Ayman Zawahiri

ISLAMABAD, Aug 13 —A recording posted online Thursday appears to show al Qaeda chief Ayman al Zawahiri vowing loyalty to the new leader of the Afghan Taliban, as the Kabul government demanded that neighboring Pakistan crack down on Taliban operations there.

Mullah Akhtar Mansour took the reins of the militant Taliban organization amid a swirl of controversy late last month when it emerged that the movement’s founder, Mullah Mohammad Omar, had been dead for more than two years.

“We pledge allegiance to you on establishing the Shariah [Islamic law] until it rules the lands of the Muslim—ruling and not ruled, leading and not led,” said the recording, in a translation circulated by SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors global jihadist activity.

SITE said the recording was distributed on Twitter and that the voice sounds like Mr. al Zawahiri’s. This would be his first audio release in nearly a year, SITE said, and would end his longest public silence in more than a decade

Mullah Mansour, the Afghan Taliban’s former deputy, has enjoyed the support of most of the movement, but has faced opposition from rivals including his predecessor’s family.

Al Qaeda’s allegiance to the Taliban wouldn’t have much impact on the battlefield in Afghanistan, home to no more than a few hundred al Qaeda fighters, an Afghan intelligence official said. But he added that it would lend Mullah Mansour greater credibility as he battles for the support of his rivals.

It also could heighten concerns in the Kabul government that the Taliban will pursue war instead of continuing tentative Pakistan-brokered peace talks. The cutting of ties with al Qaeda is also a condition of U.S. support for peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

In the weeks since Mullah Mansour ascended to the Afghan Taliban’s top post, a period of relative calm in the restive Afghan capital has been shattered by car bombings, which the Afghan government blamed on Pakistan-based Taliban operatives.

An Afghan delegation led by Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani was in Islamabad on Thursday for talks with the Pakistani government. During the negotiations, they veered from recent requests that Pakistan use its influence to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, demanding instead that Islamabad take action against Taliban based in Pakistan, Afghan officials said.

“The delegation demands Pakistan crack down on the Taliban, deny them sanctuaries, shut their training camps, and stop supporting and financing them,” an Afghan official said.

But Pakistan has maintained that peace talks with the Taliban are the most effective way to stabilize Afghanistan, which has sunk further into violence since the withdrawal of U.S. troops began last year. Pakistan’s foreign policy chief, Sartaj Aziz, said before Thursday’s meeting that the talks were “the best option.”

The Afghan and U.S. governments have long pressed Islamabad to prevent the Taliban from operating from Pakistan, with little success. Pakistani officials insist that they don’t support the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, but have said that their priorities are combating the homegrown militants staging terror attacks in the country.


Afghan War’s Convenient Myth: A Living Mullah Omar

Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Omar
Afghan Taliban chief
Mullah Omar

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban, it turns out, had been sending the world messages from a dead man. And the world kept answering him.

It continued until last month, when the Taliban issued a statement in the name of their supreme leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, intended to “elucidate some issues about the previous and present ongoing jihadi struggle.” In it, Mullah Omar seemed open to the idea of peace negotiations, raising hopes in Kabul.

The reclusive Mullah Omar, of course, had not been seen in public in nearly 14 years, and some of his commanders, having last heard from him around 2008 or 2009, had been demanding proof of life.

Mullah Omar, according to the Afghan spy service and some Taliban officials, had already been dead for more than two years — as many Afghan officials strongly suspected.

Still, President Ashraf Ghani, who had gone all out for months to open talks with the Taliban, said before news cameras that he was encouraged by Mullah Omar’s latest words, characterizing him as having said that “negotiation is the solution.”

For every major player in the Afghan war — the Afghan government, the Taliban, the United States and Pakistan — Mullah Omar and the unity his name imposed on the Afghan insurgency became convenient in some way, either politically or militarily.

How the insurgent leader’s death remained a secret for so long is a striking phenomenon that illuminates some of the murkier dynamics of the war in Afghanistan.

For the Taliban, news of Mullah Omar’s death risked fracturing an insurgency that has not just held together, but grown over a decade. No successor was likely to be as unifying in life as Mullah Omar proved to be even in death.

His name, and his rank — emir of the faithful — became a kind of talisman against defection to competing groups. When some Taliban-allied commanders finally began jumping ship this past year, some to pledge loyalty to the Islamic State, they cited growing evidence of Mullah Omar’s death as the reason.

Mullah Omar’s deputies drew much of their authority from their association, real or perceived, with the cleric, who the Afghan spy service said died in a Pakistani hospital in April 2013.

So until last month, the Taliban continued to issue in Mullah Omar’s name intermittent statements, marking holidays, bolstering morale and excoriating the government in Kabul and foreign invaders.

The more complicated part is that Afghan, American and European officials largely went along, even though many privately acknowledged that Mullah Omar, alive or dead, was completely emeritus.

Back in January, after the official end of the NATO combat mission in Afghanistan, the Pentagon hinted that Mullah Omar possibly remained a dangerous enemy. “To the degree he is still targeting our Afghan allies and U.S. troops, yes, he remains a threat,” the Pentagon’s press secretary said.

Diplomats made talking about Mullah Omar a kind of parlor game, compulsively discussing the latest official statements.

“If you had never gotten confirmation that Mullah Omar had died, this would have gone on until he was 110,” said the European Union’s representative to Afghanistan, Franz-Michael Mellbin. “When they would say ‘Mullah Omar issued this statement,’ I would say, ‘No, he didn’t; he’s not around.’ That’s been my line.”

Some Afghans wondered why the Taliban’s enemies seemed willing to keep breathing life into Mullah Omar.

“America especially should have undermined the notion that Mullah Omar was alive,” said Hajji Atta Mohammad Ahmadi, the head of Kandahar’s peace council. He said this would have helped uncover who actually led the Taliban, important information to “conduct peace talks from the standpoint of reliable knowledge.”

Yet for officials seeking peace negotiations, which are central to the long-term American hopes for Afghanistan, it was preferable that the insurgency possessed a clear hierarchy that could choose negotiators and decide terms. With Mullah Omar’s myth intact, the Taliban possessed that.

Moreover, any Taliban statements that sounded remotely like a peace overture were usually said to have Mullah Omar’s imprimatur. There was the time Mullah Omar was said to have sanctioned the opening of a political office in Qatar. And this year, Mullah Omar’s name was invoked during a nascent peace process, which stalled when his death was acknowledged last week.

“It doesn’t make sense to undermine a leader who sounds as though he is coming around to the idea of peace,” a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group in Kabul, Graeme Smith, said, offering an explanation for why diplomats might have gone along with treating Mullah Omar as alive and relevant.

Pakistani officials have also invoked Mullah Omar’s name. As Pakistani officials told Afghanistan in recent months that they would try to get a Taliban delegation to meet with the Afghan government, the Pakistanis, perhaps to lower expectations, added a caveat: It depended on Mullah Omar’s blessing, two Afghan officials familiar with the discussions said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss diplomacy.

Pakistani officials deny that Mullah Omar ever lived in their country. But American and some, though not all, Afghan officials claim he had been living there for years. If it is true that Mullah Omar died in a Karachi-area hospital two years ago, it seems unlikely that Pakistani security officials would not have known he was dead even when they were evoking his name in the peace process.

Again, the myth of an engaged Mullah Omar proved handy. It bolstered Pakistan’s public argument that the Afghan Taliban were autonomous, even while the Pakistani security forces kept themselves at the center of the peace talks by pressuring senior Taliban members to take part.

Some Western officials suggest that Mullah Omar’s myth became somewhat comfortable for a few reasons. No one knew what might come after. And over the course of a long war it helped obscure a discomfiting truth: The identities and motives of the insurgents, and their various factions, often remained opaque.

At times, the idea of Mullah Omar helped keep “hidden a simple truth that we don’t really know what’s going on or who we’re fighting on any given day, and who their backers are,” a Western official in Kabul said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid angering colleagues.

Underlying it all, too, was the difficulty of getting reliable intelligence on a man who, even when known to be alive, had cloaked himself in a calculated unapproachability.

“It was not out of convenience so much as the fact that while there wasn’t hard evidence he was alive, there certainly wasn’t any he was dead,” said James F. Dobbins, who was the State Department’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2013 and 2014. “We wondered, but in the absence of any evidence that he passed away, we simply operated under the assumption that he might still be living.”

Mr. Dobbins was not surprised at how little was ever learned about Mullah Omar’s whereabouts.

“Look how long it took us to find Bin Laden, and we were looking a lot harder for him,” said Mr. Dobbins, who is now at the RAND Corporation. Asked why the search for Mullah Omar had not taken on greater urgency, Mr. Dobbins replied, “I guess the answer is: What difference would it have made?”

He added, “Whether he was alive or not, the Taliban was operating in a coherent, unified fashion in his name.”

All that raises the question: If the United States government had learned of Mullah Omar’s death, would it have acknowledged it?

“We would have had to decide whether to announce it or not,” Mr. Dobbins said. “We never faced that.”

Taimoor Shah contributed reporting from Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Afghan Talks Postponed Amid Fall out of Taliban Leader’s Death

Prayers for Mullah Omar (Credit:
Prayers for Mullah Omar
KABUL, July 30 — Taliban officials Thursday confirmed the death of the group’s founder and picked his former deputy as successor even as they put the brakes on peace talks with Afghan leaders.

A series of moves — which included strengthening ties with a militant faction that has al-Qaeda links — pointed to possible rifts within the Taliban and a potential major blow to hopes for negotiating an end Afghanistan’s 14-year conflict.

Yet the Taliban also offered some rare hints at outreach and self-reflection by apologizing for “mistakes” under the rule of the late Mohammad Omar, who Afghan officials said died more than two years ago.

A second round of peace talks between the Taliban and the government in Kabul had been scheduled to begin Friday in Pakistan, which hosted the opening session this month.

A statement from Pakistan’s foreign minister said the Taliban had requested the postponement amid “uncertainty” following confirmation of the death of Omar.

A spokesman for the Afghan government says it is investigating reports that Mullah Omar, the reclusive leader of the Afghan Taliban, may have died in 2013. (Reuters)

Taliban officials did not publicly announce their intention to snub the planned talks, but envoys at their political office in Qatar — the base for one major faction of the group — said earlier that they knew of no upcoming talks.

Seeking an end to the 14-year insurgency by Taliban forces is a major priority for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. The Taliban leadership shifts put in motion by the formal announcement of Omar’s death, however, could raise new complications for the peace bid.

It also could deepen divisions between Taliban factions supporting the peace initiative and those seeking to press ahead with the insurgency, which has included stepped-up attacks in Kabul and gains by Taliban fighters in Afghanistan’s north.

In an e-mail to journalists, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said Omar had “abandoned this mortal world” as the result of an illness. It gave no further details, and the circumstances and location of Omar’s death remain murky.

On Wednesday, Afghan officials said Omar died in April 2013 in a hospital in the southern Pakistani city Karachi, but they left open speculation that the death carried what they called a “suspicious nature.”

It remains unclear how widely the knowledge of Omar’s death had spread among the Taliban’s ranks since April 2013. But the acknowledgment brought a quick response from the Taliban to proclaim its new leaders.

In comments to the Associated Press, Taliban officials said the group’s supreme council had met in Pakistan and picked Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, Omar’s longtime senior aide, to replace him. Mansour was widely considered a top candidate for the post, but his selection is likely to be controversial.

Although the Taliban said Omar had died of an illness, a rival militant faction accused Mansour and another aide of killing him. Also, Mansour is said to be close to Pakistan’s government. Leaders of several other factions — including those based in Qatar — distrust Pakistan’s powerful intelligence services.

Analysts and political leaders in Kabul said the tumult erupting within the Taliban could potentially empower hard-liners and derail the Afghanistan’s hopes for peace.

“The Taliban are much bigger troublemakers now than they were two years ago. They are more violent, more organized and causing more harm,” said Shukria Barakzai, a member of parliament who met with Taliban officials in Oslo several months ago as part of preparations for the talks.

Omar’s death, she said, “could encourage them even more in this direction. The peace process will take much longer now.”

In another leadership shift, the Taliban gave the No. 2 post to the head of the Haqqani network, a militant group that has connections to al-Qaeda. Sirajuddin Haqqani’s group is thought to be linked to a series of attacks, including an assault on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul in 2011.

Haqqani-linked fighters captured Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in June 2009 when he disappeared from his base in eastern Afghanistan. Bergdahl was freed last year in a swap for a group of Guantanamo detainees.

“The Taliban are fighting very hard now, and the situation is getting more complicated than ever,” said Barakzai. “Only a powerful international presence can keep the talks going and keep the Taliban from veering in a very dangerous direction.”

The Taliban statement Thursday — issued in the name of Omar’s son and his brother, Abdul Manan — also apologized for “any mistakes” made by Omar during his “rule of Afghanistan.”

Omar was toppled by U.S. and allied forces after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacks on the United States for not surrendering al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. During its six years in control, the Taliban imposed strict Islamic rule that included banning education for girls, and carrying out acts of cultural purging such as the destruction of ancient Buddha statues.

Murphy reported from Washington. Shaiq Hussain in Islamabad contributed to this report.

Mullah Omar’s Dramatic Emergence; An Impetus to Talks

Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Omar
Afghan Taliban chief
Mullah Omar

Undoubtedly the incumbent government in Kabul takes security a top most precedence. It’s not surprising to learn –the onset of regular talks between Afghan government and Taliban leaders are heading towards some resilience if not concrete solution. It worth noticing with succession of talks the degree of uncertainty associated with it went colossal, notwithstanding its credibility diminished. It’s widely considered Taliban’s’ central leadership might not be in the line with the aforesaid developments. Hence, the talks were deemed as individual efforts –faraway from bearing the expected fruits, as the central leadership had not broken the silence to talk on the subject.

The emergence of Taliban’s de facto leader, Mullah Omar first ever surprising message let the dust of ambiguity settle. This has been the subject of greater interests reflecting Taliban’s twin unilateral and uniform stance evident. In the latest development, talks between Taliban representatives and members of Afghan society, focusing on women’s rights in Afghanistan has taken place in Norwegian capital, Oslo. Reportedly, Taliban has demonstrated willingness to let women partake in socio-political endeavors and chase their academic goals unhampered. Will Taliban surrender to equal rights for women?

Earlier, in the latest round of talks Taliban while responding to demands of ceasefire Taliban conditioned it to formation of United National Government. It is an evident shift as earlier it was conditioned to complete withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan. Hitherto, the details of this government is uncertain –however following the political temperament of Taliban, the demand of reservation of lion’s share in the current democratic setup, may be a credible guess.

Mullah Omar also said they formally recognized the legitimate rights of all afghan including minorities as their religious duty. The timing of this message is centrally important –where Mullah Omar seems to be quite optimistic about the forthcomings changes that are likely to materialize. “No one should fear about what will happen if the Islamic emirate comes to power. I assure you that the upcoming changes will in no way resemble the situation following the collapse of the communist regime when everything turned upside down” said Taliban’s Supreme leader. It is found the de facto leader giving assurances as if they have made their way to greater share in the altered forthcoming setup. The degree of confidence demonstrates Taliban will join the government and the peace talks crystallize given their demands of giant share are okayed.

Omar’s statement comes days after Taliban representatives and Afghan officials held first direct talks in Pakistan and agreed to meet again after the fasting month. Mullah Omar confirms Taliban’s political office in Doha for tackling political affairs and was entrusted with the responsibility of monitoring and conducting all political activities. It depicts the said office established years ago contained Taliban representatives set free from Guantanamo bay and Bagram prison for political purpose. It was following this development that the US unbranded Taliban as a terrorist outfit separating it from Al Qaeda. The distinction carved underlines; the US’s deep rooted global interests are endangered by later than former. Broadly speaking it seems to be a sub plan of another master plan where Taliban are given space to join back the political domain and disband militancy. It is this plot that is seemingly crystallizing imminently.

Mullah Omar in his statements confirms the political talks alongside the jihad a legitimate Islamic discourse. He said, “Concurrently with armed Jihad, political endeavors and peaceful pathway is a legitimate Islamic principle and an integral part of Prophetic politics.” He said the objective behind their political endeavors as well as contacts and interactions with countries of the world and Afghans was to bring an end to the occupation and to establish an independent Islamic system in Afghanistan. This is not a genuine claim retracing the footprints of history we hold Taliban a foreign element the sole factor behind foreign occupation –whose oust is demanded at present. This is nothing more than a political statement to drive them to political privileges in the incumbent government in Kabul.

The masses find it hard to unlearn the grave human right violation and women right suppression at the hand of Taliban. The history bears Taliban apolitical say prior to its aristocratic regime and has hardly used legal course to get their political dreams come true.  Even hitherto, Taliban resorted to momentous violence when peace talks are underway. It’s whether a shift or diplomacy Taliban leader calling in for oversized confidence in the ongoing political process. He said, “All Mujahidin and countrymen should be confident that in this process, I will unwaveringly defend our legal rights and viewpoint everywhere.” Taliban should be grateful of democratic setup in practice in Afghanistan that even gives Taliban an opportunity to partake in political maters but it also demands they must be tried for some if not all mass massacres executed across the length of Afghanistan.

Conciliating with political stance of Taliban that make further peace talks, Jihad renders equally unacceptable and illegitimate. Who are they, Taliban have had waged jihad with? They are none expect the innocent civilian who due to bear the brunt of butchery. This tale is confirmed by credible report that lists over 200,000 people killed in war against terror.  Who should be held accountable for these mass killings? The report alleges them for most of casualties. We are peace seekers. We negotiate peace, even with the assassins of humanity, peace and tranquility. This very stance is stressed by both head of government and political leadership of Afghanistan with variant degree of assertion. Awfully peace is talked to those who have killed over hundred thousands of innocents and physically impaired even a multiplied number since the beginning of war launched against terror. Its appreciable Mr. Omar recognizes the legitimate rights of all Afghans including minorities a religious duty –nonetheless prior to asking forgiveness for the past atrocities and submitting to free trial the moral responsibility does not end –Taliban and its politics might not find acceptance.

In spite of differences, let’s put our finger cross for the success and fruitful finalization of negotiations. But, there are some hard born queries to be sought out prior to making any deal. Should Taliban be given amnesty seeing them executed mass massacre of innocent people? Can Taliban get them adjusted with democracy, who are born and raised in dictatorial setup?

These queries might meet their fates as the time advance. After all, the dramatic emergence of Mullah Omar proves to be an impetus for the ambiguous peace talks.

Afghan Envoys Say Taliban Were Authorized to Talk

Rejecting claims that they had met with an unauthorized Taliban delegation, Afghan government envoys said on Thursday that the insurgents they held initial talks with in Pakistan this week had the blessing of the Taliban’s deputy leader, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour.

The comments by Afghan government envoys, briefing the news media in Kabul for the first time since their return from the talks, added to speculation that there was a widening rift among the Taliban’s leadership over the Afghan peace process. On Wednesday, a representative of the Taliban’s official political office in Qatar claimed that the talks had been “hijacked” by Pakistani officials who had brokered a meeting with unauthorized Taliban representatives.

Mullah Mansour is believed to be locked in a struggle for influence with other senior Taliban commanders, and he has used his credentials as a confidant of the insurgency’s reclusive leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, to seed the group’s ranks with more of his loyalists in recent years.

An increasingly splintered Taliban movement would have serious repercussions for the peace process, raising questions about how much cooperation Taliban leaders in favor of negotiating could command.

But members of the Afghan delegation expressed optimism for the process ahead. During the late-night discussions in Murree, a resort town near the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, the two sides agreed to seek a peaceful end to the conflict by attending regular meetings, the officials said. The sides also drew up a list of all the issues and demands for the negotiations.

Hekmat Khalil Karzai, the Afghan deputy foreign minister who attended the talks, said the government’s delegation had set no preconditions and was willing to engage the Taliban on any of the group’s demands, including the release of prisoners and the future of American military forces in Afghanistan.

“We went with good intentions and good authority,” Mr. Karzai said. “We said we are willing to discuss anything, but within a framework that leads to a continuous process.”

He added, “We will let prisoners out, but on the condition that they give us guarantees they won’t kill innocent people anymore.”

The delegations also discussed the possibility of a temporary cease-fire during the three-day festival of Eid al-Fitr, which will signify the end of fasting for Ramadan later this month, the officials said, without elaborating on whether an agreement had been reached. But specific methods “to stop the bloodletting” will be the central topic in the next round of negotiations, said Azizullah Din Mohamed, a member of the Afghan government’s High Peace Council who was part of the Afghan delegation.

With the Afghan government under severe pressure from Taliban offensives in several provinces, the public will mostly judge the talks on whether a visible reduction in the violence is achieved, said Haroun Mir, a political analyst. Decreasing the bloodshed would also be a test of the authority of the delegation that represented the Taliban.

“Without a reduction of violence, the Afghan government won’t be able to sell this to the people,” Mr. Mir said.

While the meeting this week was hailed as a breakthrough in Kabul, the Afghan capital, concerns have remained about just what faction of the insurgency was present.

Mr. Karzai, who admitted to rifts among the Taliban, said the Afghan envoys had been assured that the delegation they met had permission from Mullah Mansour and the rest of the Taliban leadership based in Pakistan. He would not describe how that assurance was given. But a diplomatic official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the talks, said Pakistan’s military spy chief had vouched for the standing of the Taliban delegation with the insurgents’ leadership council.

What Pakistan managed to deliver at Murree were members of the Taliban closest to its establishment, some analysts and Taliban members believed. The insurgent delegation included Mullah Abbas Akhund, a member of the movement’s health commission and a longtime liaison with the Pakistani government, according to a member of the Taliban’s official political office in Qatar. The delegation also included a representative from the Haqqani insurgent network, Afghan attendees said.

The political office is now deciding whether Mullah Akhund “is still trusted” after he gave in to Pakistani pressure and attended the meeting without permission, the Qatar office representative said.

Some analysts expressed doubt that Mullah Mansour had given his full blessing to the delegation, saying the claim did not fit with the developments in the recent months.

On the urging of Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, the Pakistani military increased pressure on the Taliban’s leadership to sit down for direct talks months ago. But the pressure seemed to backfire in some ways. Members of the office in Qatar, long seen as official representatives of the Taliban’s highest leadership, expressed dismay that the Afghan government saw them as Pakistani proxies. The insurgency began its deadly spring offensive anyway.

Mr. Ghani’s patience with Pakistani officials began to run out this spring, as the violence continued with little sign of a breakthrough on talks, officials said. The Pakistani military, which has sheltered the Taliban’s leadership for years, redoubled its pressure on the insurgents to come to the table. As a result, some Taliban commanders began fleeing Pakistan, said Borhan Osman, a researcher at the Afghan Analysts Network who has written extensively about the insurgency.

That reaction, coupled with the Qatar office’s public disagreement with the Murree meeting, made him “think twice,” Mr. Osman said, about the claim that Mr. Mansour had given permission to the Taliban negotiators.

“Especially if the Qatar office has been accountable to Akhtar Muhammad Mansour himself, you can’t imagine a contradiction between the two,” Mr. Osman said.

“The most plausible scenario is that Pakistan brought the best they could offer — these are the guys that Taliban cannot deny,” he continued. “But whether they have the blessing of the leadership, that is the question.”

Fazal Muzhary contributed reporting.

Reports: ISIL leader in Afghanistan killed in U.S. drone strike

Former TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid (Credit: Samaa TV)
Former TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid
(Credit: Samaa TV)

A senior leader for the Islamic State in Afghanistan, currently embroiled in a feud with the Taliban over who will conduct the insurgency there, has been killed in a U.S. drone strike, local media reported Thursday.

The strike killed Shahidullah Shahid and more than two dozen militants in eastern Afghanistan south of the city of Jalalabad. It was in that city where Islamic State militants conducted their first major attack against Afghan civilians in April, killing 35 in a suicide bombing.

The drone strike was Tuesday, the same day Taliban officials met for the first time with an Afghanistan delegation in Islamabad, Pakistan, to open peace negotiations.

The Pentagon said Thursday that “precision strikes” by U.S. forces were carried out Monday and Tuesday south of Jalalabad “against individuals threatening U.S. and coalition forces.” There was no elaboration.

Afghan intelligence officials told media that those killed in the drone strike included Shahid, a former Pakistan Taliban spokesman and another senior Islamic State leader in Afghanistan, Gul Zaman.

The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, controls vast portions of Syria and western Iraq. Last year, it began recruiting disaffected members of both the Pakistan and Afghan Taliban insurgencies and providing funding for opening a front in South Asia, said Seth Jones, a political scientist with RAND Corp.

“What they’ve done is they haven’t built anything from scratch. They’ve just reached out to disaffected folks,” Jones said. “It’s possible, for example, if (Afghanistan government) negotiations continue with the Afghan Taliban, that those who don’t want a peace deal may defect to the Islamic State. But the challenge the Islamic State has in this area is its ideology is foreign.”

Shahid was named deputy chief for a region the Islamic State identifies as spanning parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. A cover story in an Islamic State magazine published in December was highly critical of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.

The Afghan Taliban reacted strongly to the intrusion publishing an open letter on its website in June warning the Islamic State to stay out of its territory. “Jihad against the Americans and their allies must be conducted under one flag and one leadership,” the letter said.

Last year, Shahid was fired as Pakistani Taliban spokesman after pledging allegiance to the Islamic State. At the time the Pakistan Taliban said Shahidullah Shahid was a “nom de guerre” and that his real name was Sheikh Maqbool, the BBC reported.

A senior leader of Islamic State operations in southern Afghanistan, Mullah Abdul Rauf, who had sworn allegiance to the militants after breaking with the Taliban, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in February.

Al-Qaeda chief was reading Chomsky in Abbotabad, Pakistan – US intelligence

CIA aerial view of OBL compound in Abbotabad (Credit:
CIA aerial view of OBL
compound in Abbotabad
Osama bin Laden spent his last reading the books of Bob Woodward and Noam Chomsky, conspiracy theories about the September 11 attacks and continued to plot attacks against the West, according to a “library” of documents released by the US intelligence services.

Officials in Washington released more than 100 documents they said were discovered inside the al-Qaeda leader’s compound in Abbottabad by US special forces after a raid to kill or capture him in May 2011.

The digital volumes reportedly included works by linguist and writer Noam Chomsky, former intelligence official and antiwar activist Michael Scheuer, conspiracy texts about the September 11 attacks that Bin Laden himself had plotted and a work by Bob Woodward.

US officials say Osama Bin Laden was reading a variety of books in his last days, including one by Bob Woodward.

The release of the newly-declassified documents comes as the US is engaged in a dispute over the circumstances in which the al-Qaeda leader was found and killed. The US has always insisted it tracked down the 54-year-old by means of first finding his trusted couriers, who then unknowingly led them to the compound.

However, a number of commentators have raised questions about such a narrative, suggesting instead that senior figures within the Pakistani military were holding him for leverage. Most recently the veteran investigative journalist Seyour Hersh claimed the White House had repeatedly mislead the US public over the details of the Bin Laden operation.

Mr Hersh told The Independent the US government was continuing to mislead people and was getting entrapped by its own twists. “When you change course in midstream, you walk all over yourself,” he said.

The documents purportedly found in the property also quoted Bin Laden as saying his militants should focus their attacks on America and American targets.

“The focus should be on killing and fighting the American people and their representatives,” Bin Laden apparently wrote in one of the newly revealed documents.

He wrote one letter to militants in North Africa and told them to stop “insisting on the formation of an Islamic State” and rather to attack US embassies and American oil companies.

Bin Laden also told al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula – the Yemeni affiliate of the group – to halt attacks on domestic targets and start launching attacks on American interests.
It is not clear whether bin Laden’s warnings against Isis never reached the militants or if they simply were ignored, but al-Qaeda has continued to carry out attacks on local targets.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in a statement that the release of the documents followed a review by US government agencies and “aligns with the president’s call for increased transparency consistent with national security prerogatives”.

One of the documents, translated by intelligence officials, is said to begin begins with questions that similar to a conventional job application, the Associated Press reported.

President Barack Obama has insisted the US tracked down Bin Laden without Pakistani help.

“Do you have hobbies? Have you been convicted of a crime,” it says. “What objectives would you like to accomplish on your jihad path?”

It then asks: “Do you wish to execute a suicide operation,” and adds: “Who should we contact in case you become a martyr?”

Some commentators believe he US has acted inconsistently with the release of documents and evidence relating to the Bin Laden raid. Wednesday’s release was the second; 17 documents from the compound were previously made public in May 2012, one year after the Navy SEAL raid.

But a lot of information remains classified, or may even have been destroyed. The Associated Press, among other media organisations, have lobbied the government to release more documents, including the details of Bin Laden’s funeral, which the White House said was carried out at sea on a US naval vessel immediately after he was shot and killed.
Last year it was revealed that eleven days after the killing, the US military’s top special operations officer ordered subordinates to destroy any photographs of the Bin Laden’s corpse or turn them over to the CIA.

The message was sent by Admiral William McRaven, who heads the US Special Operations Command, 10 days after the AP asked for the photos and other documents under the US Freedom of Information Act. The White House said Bin Laden’s body was buried at sea on board the the US Navy’s carrier USS Carl Vinson .

The documents said to have been found in Pakistan also suggested that Bin Laden was a man who doted upon up his many sons and daughters, and was a much-loved and admired father.

The documents also present Bin Laden as a meticulous editor, and some of the memos he wrote were revised as many as 50 times.

The new documents show how Bin Laden reacted to the events of the Arab Spring, which was rocking the Middle East in the months before his death.

He wrote lengthy memos analysing what was happening, pointing to the “new factor” of the so-called information technology revolution. He said this had helped spur the revolutions and characterised them as “the most important events in the Muslim world in centuries”.

The Killing of Osama bin Laden

It’s been four years since a group of US Navy Seals assassinated Osama bin Laden in a night raid on a high-walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The killing was the high point of Obama’s first term, and a major factor in his re-election. The White House still maintains that the mission was an all-American affair, and that the senior generals of Pakistan’s army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) were not told of 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: would bin Laden, target of a massive international manhunt, really decide that a resort town forty miles from Islamabad would be the safest place to live and command al-Qaida’s operations? He was hiding in the open. So America said.

The most blatant lie was that Pakistan’s two most senior military leaders – General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, chief of the army staff, and General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, director general of the ISI – were never informed of the US mission. This remains the White House position despite an array of reports that have raised questions, including one by Carlotta Gall in the New York Times Magazine of 19 March 2014. Gall, who spent 12 years as the Times correspondent in Afghanistan, wrote that she’d been told by a ‘Pakistani official’ that Pasha had known before the raid that bin Laden was in Abbottabad. The story was denied by US and Pakistani officials, and went no further. In his book Pakistan: Before and after Osama (2012), Imtiaz Gul, executive director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies, a think tank in Islamabad, wrote that he’d spoken to four undercover intelligence officers who – reflecting a widely held local view – asserted that the Pakistani military must have had knowledge of the operation. The issue was raised again in February, when a retired general, Asad Durrani, who was head of the ISI in the early 1990s, told an al-Jazeera interviewer that it was ‘quite possible’ that the senior officers of the ISI did not know where bin Laden had been hiding, ‘but it was more probable that they did [know]. And the idea was that, at the right time, his location would be revealed. And the right time would have been when you can get the necessary quid pro quo – if you have someone like Osama bin Laden, you are not going to simply hand him over to the United States.’

This spring I contacted Durrani and told him in detail what I had learned about the bin Laden assault from American sources: that bin Laden had been a prisoner of the ISI at the Abbottabad compound since 2006; that Kayani and Pasha knew of the raid in advance and had made sure that the two helicopters delivering the Seals to Abbottabad could cross Pakistani airspace without triggering any alarms; that the CIA did not learn of bin Laden’s whereabouts by tracking his couriers, as the White House has claimed since May 2011, but from a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer who betrayed the secret in return for much of the $25 million reward offered by the US, and that, while Obama did order the raid and the Seal team did carry it out, many other aspects of the administration’s account were false.



‘When your version comes out – if you do it – people in Pakistan will be tremendously grateful,’ Durrani told me. ‘For a long time people have stopped trusting what comes out about bin Laden from the official mouths. There will be some negative political comment and some anger, but people like to be told the truth, and what you’ve told me is essentially what I have heard from former colleagues who have been on a fact-finding mission since this episode.’ As a former ISI head, he said, he had been told shortly after the raid by ‘people in the “strategic community” who would know’ that there had been an informant who had alerted the US to bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad, and that after his killing the US’s betrayed promises left Kayani and Pasha exposed.

The major US source for the account that follows is a retired senior intelligence official who was knowledgeable about the initial intelligence about bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad. He also was privy to many aspects of the Seals’ training for the raid, and to the various after-action reports. Two other US sources, who had access to corroborating information, have been longtime consultants to the Special Operations Command. I also received information from inside Pakistan about widespread dismay among the senior ISI and military leadership – echoed later by Durrani – over Obama’s decision to go public immediately with news of bin Laden’s death. The White House did not respond to requests for comment.


It began with a walk-in. In August 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 bin Laden in return for the reward that Washington had offered in 2001. Walk-ins are assumed by the CIA to be unreliable, and the response from the agency’s headquarters was to fly in a polygraph team. The walk-in passed the test. ‘So now we’ve got a lead on bin Laden living in a compound in Abbottabad, but how do we really know who it is?’ was the CIA’s worry at the time, the retired senior US intelligence official told me.

The US initially kept what it knew from the Pakistanis. ‘The fear was that if the existence of the source was made known, the Pakistanis themselves would move bin Laden to another location. So only a very small number of people were read into the source and his story,’ the retired official said. ‘The CIA’s first goal was to check out the quality of the informant’s information.’ The compound was put under satellite surveillance. The CIA rented a house in Abbottabad to use as a forward observation base and staffed it with Pakistani employees and foreign nationals. Later on, the base would serve as a contact point with the ISI; it attracted little attention because Abbottabad is a holiday spot full of houses rented on short leases. A psychological profile of the informant was prepared. (The informant and his family were smuggled out of Pakistan and relocated in the Washington area. He is now a consultant for the CIA.)

‘By October the military and intelligence community were discussing the possible military options. Do we drop a bunker buster on the compound or take him out with a drone strike? Perhaps send someone to kill him, single assassin style? But then we’d have no proof of who he was,’ the retired official said. ‘We could see some guy is walking around at night, but we have no intercepts because there’s no commo coming from the compound.’

In October, Obama was briefed on the intelligence. His response was cautious, the retired official said. ‘It just made no sense that bin Laden was living in Abbottabad. It was just too crazy. The president’s position was emphatic: “Don’t talk to me about this any more unless you have proof that it really is bin Laden.”’ The immediate goal of the CIA leadership and the Joint Special Operations Command was to get Obama’s support. They believed they would get this if they got DNA evidence, and if they could assure him that a night assault of the compound would carry no risk. The only way to accomplish both things, the retired official said, ‘was to get the Pakistanis on board’.



During the late autumn of 2010, the US continued to keep quiet about the walk-in, and Kayani and Pasha continued to insist to their American counterparts that they had no information about bin Laden’s whereabouts. ‘The next step was to figure out how to ease Kayani and Pasha into it – to tell them that we’ve got intelligence showing that there is a high-value target in the compound, and to ask them what they know about the target,’ the retired official said. ‘The compound was not an armed enclave – no machine guns around, because it was under ISI control.’ The walk-in had told the US that bin Laden had lived undetected from 2001 to 2006 with some of his wives and children in the Hindu Kush mountains, and that ‘the ISI got to him by paying some of the local tribal people to betray him.’ (Reports after the raid placed him elsewhere in Pakistan during this period.) Bank was also told by the walk-in that bin Laden was very ill, and that early on in his confinement at Abbottabad, the ISI had ordered Amir Aziz, a doctor and a major in the Pakistani army, to move nearby to provide treatment. ‘The truth is that bin Laden was an invalid, but we cannot say that,’ the retired official said. ‘“You mean you guys shot a cripple? Who was about to grab his AK-47?”’

‘It didn’t take long to get the co-operation we needed, because the Pakistanis wanted to ensure the continued release of American military aid, a good percentage of which was anti-terrorism funding that finances personal security, such as bullet-proof limousines and security guards and housing for the ISI leadership,’ the retired official said. He added that there were also under-the-table personal ‘incentives’ that were financed by off-the-books Pentagon contingency funds. ‘The intelligence community knew what the Pakistanis needed to agree – there was the carrot. And they chose the carrot. It was a win-win. We also did a little blackmail. We told them we would leak the fact that you’ve got bin Laden in your backyard. We knew their friends and enemies’ – the Taliban and jihadist groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan – ‘would not like it.’

A worrying factor at this early point, according to the retired official, was Saudi Arabia, which had been financing bin Laden’s upkeep since his seizure by the Pakistanis. ‘The Saudis didn’t want bin Laden’s presence revealed to us because he was a Saudi, and so they told the Pakistanis to keep him out of the picture. The Saudis feared if we knew we would pressure the Pakistanis to let bin Laden start talking to us about what the Saudis had been doing with al-Qaida. And they were dropping money – lots of it. The Pakistanis, in turn, were concerned that the Saudis might spill the beans about their control of bin Laden. The fear was that if the US found out about bin Laden from Riyadh, all hell would break out. The Americans learning about bin Laden’s imprisonment from a walk-in was not the worst thing.’

Despite their constant public feuding, American and Pakistani military and intelligence services have worked together closely for decades on counterterrorism in South Asia. Both services often find it useful to engage in public feuds ‘to cover their asses’, as the retired official put it, but they continually share intelligence used for drone attacks, and co-operate on covert operations. At the same time, it’s understood in Washington that elements of the ISI believe that maintaining a relationship with the Taliban leadership inside Afghanistan is essential to national security. The ISI’s strategic aim is to balance Indian influence in Kabul; the Taliban is also seen in Pakistan as a source of jihadist shock troops who would back Pakistan against India in a confrontation over Kashmir.

Adding to the tension was the Pakistani nuclear arsenal, often depicted in the Western press as an ‘Islamic bomb’ that might be transferred by Pakistan to an embattled nation in the Middle East in the event of a crisis with Israel. The US looked the other way when Pakistan began building its weapons system in the 1970s and it’s widely believed it now has more than a hundred nuclear warheads. It’s understood in Washington that US security depends on the maintenance of strong military and intelligence ties to Pakistan. The belief is mirrored in Pakistan.


‘The Pakistani army sees itself as family,’ the retired official said. ‘Officers call soldiers their sons and all officers are “brothers”. The attitude is different in the American military. The senior Pakistani officers believe they are the elite and have got to look out for all of the people, as keepers of the flame against Muslim fundamentalism. The Pakistanis also know that their trump card against aggression from India is a strong relationship with the United States. They will never cut their person-to-person ties with us.’

Like all CIA station chiefs, Bank was working undercover, but that ended in early December 2010 when he was publicly accused of murder in a criminal complaint filed in Islamabad by Karim Khan, a Pakistani journalist whose son and brother, according to local news reports, had been killed by a US drone strike. Allowing Bank to be named was a violation of diplomatic protocol on the part of the Pakistani authorities, and it brought a wave of unwanted publicity. Bank was ordered to leave Pakistan by the CIA, whose officials subsequently told the Associated Press he was transferred because of concerns for his safety. The New York Times reported that there was ‘strong suspicion’ the ISI had played a role in leaking Bank’s name to Khan. There was speculation that he was outed as payback for the publication in a New York lawsuit a month earlier of the names of ISI chiefs in connection with the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 2008. But there was a collateral reason, the retired official said, for the CIA’s willingness to send Bank back to America. The Pakistanis needed cover in case their co-operation with the Americans in getting rid of bin Laden became known. The Pakistanis could say: “You’re talking about me? We just kicked out your station chief.”’


The bin Laden compound was less than two miles from the Pakistan Military Academy, and a Pakistani army combat battalion headquarters was another mile or so away. Abbottabad is less than 15 minutes by helicopter from Tarbela Ghazi, an important base for ISI covert operations and the facility where those who guard Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal are trained. ‘Ghazi is why the ISI put bin Laden in Abbottabad in the first place,’ the retired official said, ‘to keep him under constant supervision.’

The risks for Obama were high at this early stage, especially because there was a troubling precedent: the failed 1980 attempt to rescue the American hostages in Tehran. That failure was a factor in Jimmy Carter’s loss to Ronald Reagan. Obama’s worries were realistic, the retired official said. ‘Was bin Laden ever there? Was the whole story a product of Pakistani deception? What about political blowback in case of failure?’ After all, as the retired official said, ‘If the mission fails, Obama’s just a black Jimmy Carter and it’s all over for re-election.’

Obama was anxious for reassurance that the US was going to get the right man. The proof was to come in the form of bin Laden’s DNA. The planners turned for help to Kayani and Pasha, who asked Aziz to obtain the specimens. Soon after the raid the press found out that Aziz had been living in a house near the bin Laden compound: local reporters discovered his name in Urdu on a plate on the door. Pakistani officials denied that Aziz had any connection to bin Laden, but the retired official told me that Aziz had been rewarded with a share of the $25 million reward the US had put up because the DNA sample had showed conclusively that it was bin Laden in Abbottabad. (In his subsequent testimony to a Pakistani commission investigating the bin Laden raid, Aziz said that he had witnessed the attack on Abbottabad, but had no knowledge of who was living in the compound and had been ordered by a superior officer to stay away from the scene.)

Bargaining continued over the way the mission would be executed. ‘Kayani eventually tells us yes, but he says you can’t have a big strike force. You have to come in lean and mean. And you have to kill him, or there is no deal,’ the retired official said. The agreement was struck by the end of January 2011, and Joint Special Operations Command prepared a list of questions to be answered by the Pakistanis: ‘How can we be assured of no outside intervention? What are the defences inside the compound and its exact dimensions? Where are bin Laden’s rooms and exactly how big are they? How many steps in the stairway? Where are the doors to his rooms, and are they reinforced with steel? How thick?’ The Pakistanis agreed to permit a four-man American cell – a Navy Seal, a CIA case officer and two communications specialists – to set up a liaison office at Tarbela Ghazi for the coming assault. By then, the military had constructed a mock-up of the compound in Abbottabad at a secret former nuclear test site in Nevada, and an elite Seal team had begun rehearsing for the attack.

The US had begun to cut back on aid to Pakistan – to ‘turn off the spigot’, in the retired official’s words. The provision of 18 new F-16 fighter aircraft was delayed, and under-the-table cash payments to the senior leaders were suspended. In April 2011 Pasha met the CIA director, Leon Panetta, at agency headquarters. ‘Pasha got a commitment that the United States would turn the money back on, and we got a guarantee that there would be no Pakistani opposition during the mission,’ the retired official said. ‘Pasha also insisted that Washington stop complaining about Pakistan’s lack of co-operation with the American war on terrorism.’ At one point that spring, Pasha offered the Americans a blunt explanation of the reason Pakistan kept bin Laden’s capture a secret, and why it was imperative for the ISI role to remain secret: ‘We needed a hostage to keep tabs on al-Qaida and the Taliban,’ Pasha said, according to the retired official. ‘The ISI was using bin Laden as leverage against Taliban and al-Qaida activities inside Afghanistan and Pakistan. They let the Taliban and al-Qaida leadership know that if they ran operations that clashed with the interests of the ISI, they would turn bin Laden over to us. So if it became known that the Pakistanis had worked with us to get bin Laden at Abbottabad, there would be hell to pay.’

At one of his meetings with Panetta, according to the retired official and a source within the CIA, Pasha was asked by a senior CIA official whether he saw himself as acting in essence as an agent for al-Qaida and the Taliban. ‘He answered no, but said the ISI needed to have some control.’ The message, as the CIA saw it, according to the retired official, was that Kayani and Pasha viewed bin Laden ‘as a resource, and they were more interested in their [own] survival than they were in the United States’.

A Pakistani with close ties to the senior leadership of the ISI told me that ‘there was a deal with your top guys. We were very reluctant, but it had to be done – not because of personal enrichment, but because all of the American aid programmes would be cut off. Your guys said we will starve you out if you don’t do it, and the okay was given while Pasha was in Washington. The deal was not only to keep the taps open, but Pasha was told there would be more goodies for us.’ The Pakistani said that Pasha’s visit also resulted in a commitment from the US to give Pakistan ‘a freer hand’ in Afghanistan as it began its military draw-down there. ‘And so our top dogs justified the deal by saying this is for our country.’


Pasha and Kayani were responsible for ensuring that Pakistan’s army and air defence command would not track or engage with the US helicopters used on the mission. The American cell at Tarbela Ghazi was charged with co-ordinating communications between the ISI, the senior US officers at their command post in Afghanistan, and the two Black Hawk helicopters; the goal was to ensure that no stray Pakistani fighter plane on border patrol spotted the intruders and took action to stop them. The initial plan said that news of the raid shouldn’t be announced straightaway. All units in the Joint Special Operations Command operate under stringent secrecy and the JSOC leadership believed, as did Kayani and Pasha, that the killing of bin Laden would not be made public for as long as seven days, maybe longer. Then a carefully constructed cover story would be issued: Obama would announce that DNA analysis confirmed that bin Laden had been killed in a drone raid in the Hindu Kush, on Afghanistan’s side of the border. The Americans who planned the mission assured Kayani and Pasha that their co-operation would never be made public. It was understood by all that if the Pakistani role became known, there would be violent protests – bin Laden was considered a hero by many Pakistanis – and Pasha and Kayani and their families would be in danger, and the Pakistani army publicly disgraced.

It was clear to all by this point, the retired official said, that bin Laden would not survive: ‘Pasha told us at a meeting in April that he could not risk leaving bin Laden in the compound now that we know he’s there. Too many people in the Pakistani chain of command know about the mission. He and Kayani had to tell the whole story to the directors of the air defence command and to a few local commanders.

‘Of course the guys knew the target was bin Laden and he was there under Pakistani control,’ the retired official said. ‘Otherwise, they would not have done the mission without air cover. It was clearly and absolutely a premeditated murder.’ A former Seal commander, who has led and participated in dozens of similar missions over the past decade, assured me that ‘we were not going to keep bin Laden alive – to allow the terrorist to live. By law, we know what we’re doing inside Pakistan is a homicide. We’ve come to grips with that. Each one of us, when we do these missions, say to ourselves, “Let’s face it. We’re going to commit a murder.”’ The White House’s initial account claimed that bin Laden had been brandishing a weapon; the story was aimed at deflecting those who questioned the legality of the US administration’s targeted assassination programme. The US has consistently maintained, despite widely reported remarks by people involved with the mission, that bin Laden would have been taken alive if he had immediately surrendered.


At the Abbottabad compound ISI guards were posted around the clock to keep watch over bin Laden and his wives and children. They were under orders to leave as soon as they heard the rotors of the US helicopters. The town was dark: the electricity supply had been cut off on the orders of the ISI hours before the raid began. One of the Black Hawks crashed inside the walls of the compound, injuring many on board. ‘The guys knew the TOT [time on target] had to be tight because they would wake up the whole town going in,’ the retired official said. The cockpit of the crashed Black Hawk, with its communication and navigational gear, had to be destroyed by concussion grenades, and this would create a series of explosions and a fire visible for miles. Two Chinook helicopters had flown from Afghanistan to a nearby Pakistani intelligence base to provide logistical support, and one of them was immediately dispatched to Abbottabad. But because the helicopter had been equipped with a bladder loaded with extra fuel for the two Black Hawks, it first had to be reconfigured as a troop carrier. The crash of the Black Hawk and the need to fly in a replacement were nerve-wracking and time-consuming setbacks, but the Seals continued with their mission. There was no firefight as they moved into the compound; the ISI guards had gone. ‘Everyone in Pakistan has a gun and high-profile, wealthy folks like those who live in Abbottabad have armed bodyguards, and yet there were no weapons in the compound,’ the retired official pointed out. Had there been any opposition, the team would have been highly vulnerable. Instead, the retired official said, an ISI liaison officer flying with the Seals guided them into the darkened house and up a staircase to bin Laden’s quarters. The Seals had been warned by the Pakistanis that heavy steel doors blocked the stairwell on the first and second-floor landings; bin Laden’s rooms were on the third floor. The Seal squad used explosives to blow the doors open, without injuring anyone. One of bin Laden’s wives was screaming hysterically and a bullet – perhaps a stray round – struck her knee. Aside from those that hit bin Laden, no other shots were fired. (The Obama administration’s account would hold otherwise.)


‘They knew where the target was – third floor, second door on the right,’ the retired official said. ‘Go straight there. Osama was cowering and retreated into the bedroom. Two shooters followed him and opened up. Very simple, very straightforward, very professional hit.’ Some of the Seals were appalled later at the White House’s initial insistence that they had shot bin Laden in self-defence, the retired official said. ‘Six of the Seals’ finest, most experienced NCOs, faced with an unarmed elderly civilian, had to kill him in self-defence? The house was shabby and bin Laden was living in a cell with bars on the window and barbed wire on the roof. The rules of engagement were that if bin Laden put up any opposition they were authorised to take lethal action. But if they suspected he might have some means of opposition, like an explosive vest under his robe, they could also kill him. So here’s this guy in a mystery robe and they shot him. It’s not because he was reaching for a weapon. The rules gave them absolute authority to kill the guy.’ The later White House claim that only one or two bullets were fired into his head was ‘bullshit’, the retired official said. ‘The squad came through the door and obliterated him. As the Seals say, “We kicked his ass and took his gas.”’

After they killed bin Laden, ‘the Seals were just there, some with physical injuries from the crash, waiting for the relief chopper,’ the retired official said. ‘Twenty tense minutes. The Black Hawk is still burning. There are no city lights. No electricity. No police. No fire trucks. They have no prisoners.’ Bin Laden’s wives and children were left for the ISI to interrogate and relocate. ‘Despite all the talk,’ the retired official continued, there were ‘no garbage bags full of computers and storage devices. The guys just stuffed some books and papers they found in his room in their backpacks. The Seals weren’t there because they thought bin Laden was running a command centre for al-Qaida operations, as the White House would later tell the media. And they were not intelligence experts gathering information inside that house.’

On a normal assault mission, the retired official said, there would be no waiting around if a chopper went down. ‘The Seals would have finished the mission, thrown off their guns and gear, and jammed into the remaining Black Hawk and di-di-maued’ – Vietnamese slang for leaving in a rush – ‘out of there, with guys hanging out of the doors. They would not have blown the chopper – no commo gear is worth a dozen lives – unless they knew they were safe. Instead they stood around outside the compound, waiting for the bus to arrive.’ Pasha and Kayani had delivered on all their promises.


The backroom argument inside the White House began as soon as it was clear that the mission had succeeded. Bin Laden’s body was presumed to be on its way to Afghanistan. Should Obama stand by the agreement with Kayani and Pasha and pretend a week or so later that bin Laden had been killed in a drone attack in the mountains, or should he go public immediately? The downed helicopter made it easy for Obama’s political advisers to urge the latter plan. The explosion and fireball would be impossible to hide, and word of what had happened was bound to leak. Obama had to ‘get out in front of the story’ before someone in the Pentagon did: waiting would diminish the political impact.

Not everyone agreed. Robert Gates, the secretary of defence, was the most outspoken of those who insisted that the agreements with Pakistan had to be honoured. In his memoir, Duty, Gates did not mask his anger:

Before we broke up and the president headed upstairs to tell the American people what had just happened, I reminded everyone that the techniques, tactics and procedures the Seals had used in the bin Laden operation were used every night in Afghanistan … it was therefore essential that we agree not to release any operational details of the raid. That we killed him, I said, is all we needed to say. Everybody in that room agreed to keep mum on details. That commitment lasted about five hours. The initial leaks came from the White House and CIA. They just couldn’t wait to brag and to claim credit. The facts were often wrong … Nonetheless the information just kept pouring out. I was outraged and at one point, told [the national security adviser, Tom] Donilon, ‘Why doesn’t everybody just shut the fuck up?’ To no avail.

Obama’s speech was put together in a rush, the retired official said, and was viewed by his advisers as a political document, not a message that needed to be submitted for clearance to the national security bureaucracy. This series of self-serving and inaccurate statements would create chaos in the weeks following. Obama said that his administration had discovered that bin Laden was in Pakistan through ‘a possible lead’ the previous August; to many in the CIA the statement suggested a specific event, such as a walk-in. The remark led to a new cover story claiming that the CIA’s brilliant analysts had unmasked a courier network handling bin Laden’s continuing flow of operational orders to al-Qaida. Obama also praised ‘a small team of Americans’ for their care in avoiding civilian deaths and said: ‘After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.’ Two more details now had to be supplied for the cover story: a description of the firefight that never happened, and a story about what happened to the corpse. Obama went on to praise the Pakistanis: ‘It’s important to note that our counterterrorism co-operation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding.’ That statement risked exposing Kayani and Pasha. The White House’s solution was to ignore what Obama had said and order anyone talking to the press to insist that the Pakistanis had played no role in killing bin Laden. Obama left the clear impression that he and his advisers hadn’t known for sure that bin Laden was in Abbottabad, but only had information ‘about the possibility’. This led first to the story that the Seals had determined they’d killed the right man by having a six-foot-tall Seal lie next to the corpse for comparison (bin Laden was known to be six foot four); and then to the claim that a DNA test had been performed on the corpse and demonstrated conclusively that the Seals had killed bin Laden. But, according to the retired official, it wasn’t clear from the Seals’ early reports whether all of bin Laden’s body, or any of it, made it back to Afghanistan.

Gates wasn’t the only official who was distressed by Obama’s decision to speak without clearing his remarks in advance, the retired official said, ‘but he was the only one protesting. Obama didn’t just double-cross Gates, he double-crossed everyone. This was not the fog of war. The fact that there was an agreement with the Pakistanis and no contingency analysis of what was to be disclosed if something went wrong – that wasn’t even discussed. And once it went wrong, they had to make up a new cover story on the fly.’ There was a legitimate reason for some deception: the role of the Pakistani walk-in had to be protected.

The White House press corps was told in a briefing shortly after Obama’s announcement that the death of bin Laden was ‘the culmination of years of careful and highly advanced intelligence work’ that focused on tracking a group of couriers, including one who was known to be close to bin Laden. Reporters were told that a team of specially assembled CIA and National Security Agency analysts had traced the courier to a highly secure million-dollar compound in Abbottabad. After months of observation, the American intelligence community had ‘high confidence’ that a high-value target was living in the compound, and it was ‘assessed that there was a strong probability that [it] was Osama bin Laden’. The US assault team ran into a firefight on entering the compound and three adult males – two of them believed to be the couriers – were slain, along with bin Laden. Asked if bin Laden had defended himself, one of the briefers said yes: ‘He did resist the assault force. And he was killed in a firefight.’

The next day John Brennan, then Obama’s senior adviser for counterterrorism, had the task of talking up Obama’s valour while trying to smooth over the misstatements in his speech. He provided a more detailed but equally misleading account of the raid and its planning. Speaking on the record, which he rarely does, Brennan said that the mission was carried out by a group of Navy Seals who had been instructed to take bin Laden alive, if possible. He said the US had no information suggesting that anyone in the Pakistani government or military knew bin Laden’s whereabouts: ‘We didn’t contact the Pakistanis until after all of our people, all of our aircraft were out of Pakistani airspace.’ He emphasised the courage of Obama’s decision to order the strike, and said that the White House had no information ‘that confirmed that bin Laden was at the compound’ before the raid began. Obama, he said, ‘made what I believe was one of the gutsiest calls of any president in recent memory’. Brennan increased the number killed by the Seals inside the compound to five: bin Laden, a courier, his brother, a bin Laden son, and one of the women said to be shielding bin Laden.

Asked whether bin Laden had fired on the Seals, as some reporters had been told, Brennan repeated what would become a White House mantra: ‘He was engaged in a firefight with those that entered the area of the house he was in. And whether or not he got off any rounds, I quite frankly don’t know … Here is bin Laden, who has been calling for these attacks … living in an area that is far removed from the front, hiding behind women who were put in front of him as a shield … [It] just speaks to I think the nature of the individual he was.’

Gates also objected to the idea, pushed by Brennan and Leon Panetta, that US intelligence had learned of bin Laden’s whereabouts from information acquired by waterboarding and other forms of torture. ‘All of this is going on as the Seals are flying home from their mission. The agency guys know the whole story,’ the retired official said. ‘It was a group of annuitants who did it.’ (Annuitants are retired CIA officers who remain active on contract.) ‘They had been called in by some of the mission planners in the agency to help with the cover story. So the old-timers come in and say why not admit that we got some of the information about bin Laden from enhanced interrogation?’ At the time, there was still talk in Washington about the possible prosecution of CIA agents who had conducted torture.



‘Gates told them this was not going to work,’ the retired official said. ‘He was never on the team. He knew at the eleventh hour of his career not to be a party to this nonsense. But State, the agency and the Pentagon had bought in on the cover story. None of the Seals thought that Obama was going to get on national TV and announce the raid. The Special Forces command was apoplectic. They prided themselves on keeping operational security.’ There was fear in Special Operations, the retired official said, that ‘if the true story of the missions leaked out, the White House bureaucracy was going to blame it on the Seals.’

The White House’s solution was to silence the Seals. On 5 May, every member of the Seal hit team – they had returned to their base in southern Virginia – and some members of the Joint Special Operations Command leadership were presented with a nondisclosure form drafted by the White House’s legal office; it promised civil penalties and a lawsuit for anyone who discussed the mission, in public or private. ‘The Seals were not happy,’ the retired official said. But most of them kept quiet, as did Admiral William McRaven, who was then in charge of JSOC. ‘McRaven was apoplectic. He knew he was fucked by the White House, but he’s a dyed-in-the-wool Seal, and not then a political operator, and he knew there’s no glory in blowing the whistle on the president. When Obama went public with bin Laden’s death, everyone had to scramble around for a new story that made sense, and the planners were stuck holding the bag.’

Within days, some of the early exaggerations and distortions had become obvious and the Pentagon issued a series of clarifying statements. No, bin Laden was not armed when he was shot and killed. And no, bin Laden did not use one of his wives as a shield. The press by and large accepted the explanation that the errors were the inevitable by-product of the White House’s desire to accommodate reporters frantic for details of the mission.

One lie that has endured is that the Seals had to fight their way to their target. Only two Seals have made any public statement: No Easy Day, a first-hand account of the raid by Matt Bissonnette, was published in September 2012; and two years later Rob O’Neill was interviewed by Fox News. Both men had resigned from the navy; both had fired at bin Laden. Their accounts contradicted each other on many details, but their stories generally supported the White House version, especially when it came to the need to kill or be killed as the Seals fought their way to bin Laden. O’Neill even told Fox News that he and his fellow Seals thought ‘We were going to die.’ ‘The more we trained on it, the more we realised … this is going to be a one-way mission.’

But the retired official told me that in their initial debriefings the Seals made no mention of a firefight, or indeed of any opposition. The drama and danger portrayed by Bissonnette and O’Neill met a deep-seated need, the retired official said: ‘Seals cannot live with the fact that they killed bin Laden totally unopposed, and so there has to be an account of their courage in the face of danger. The guys are going to sit around the bar and say it was an easy day? That’s not going to happen.’

There was another reason to claim there had been a firefight inside the compound, the retired official said: to avoid the inevitable question that would arise from an uncontested assault. Where were bin Laden’s guards? Surely, the most sought-after terrorist in the world would have around-the-clock protection. ‘And one of those killed had to be the courier, because he didn’t exist and we couldn’t produce him. The Pakistanis had no choice but to play along with it.’ (Two days after the raid, Reuters published photographs of three dead men that it said it had purchased from an ISI official. Two of the men were later identified by an ISI spokesman as being the alleged courier and his brother.)


Five days after the raid the Pentagon press corps was provided with a series of videotapes that were said by US officials to have been taken from a large collection the Seals had removed from the compound, along with as many as 15 computers. Snippets from one of the videos showed a solitary bin Laden looking wan and wrapped in a blanket, watching what appeared to be a video of himself on television. An unnamed official told reporters that the raid produced a ‘treasure trove … the single largest collection of senior terrorist materials ever’, which would provide vital insights into al-Qaida’s plans. The official said the material showed that bin Laden ‘remained an active leader in al-Qaida, providing strategic, operational and tactical instructions to the group … He was far from a figurehead [and] continued to direct even tactical details of the group’s management and to encourage plotting’ from what was described as a command-and-control centre in Abbottabad. ‘He was an active player, making the recent operation even more essential for our nation’s security,’ the official said. The information was so vital, he added, that the administration was setting up an inter-agency task force to process it: ‘He was not simply someone who was penning al-Qaida strategy. He was throwing operational ideas out there and he was also specifically directing other al-Qaida members.’

These claims were fabrications: there wasn’t much activity for bin Laden to exercise command and control over. The retired intelligence official said that the CIA’s internal reporting shows that since bin Laden moved to Abbottabad in 2006 only a handful of terrorist attacks could be linked to the remnants of bin Laden’s al-Qaida. ‘We were told at first,’ the retired official said, ‘that the Seals produced garbage bags of stuff and that the community is generating daily intelligence reports out of this stuff. And then we were told that the community is gathering everything together and needs to translate it. But nothing has come of it. Every single thing they have created turns out not to be true. It’s a great hoax – like the Piltdown man.’ The retired official said that most of the materials from Abbottabad were turned over to the US by the Pakistanis, who later razed the building. The ISI took responsibility for the wives and children of bin Laden, none of whom was made available to the US for questioning.

‘Why create the treasure trove story?’ the retired official said. ‘The White House had to give the impression that bin Laden was still operationally important. Otherwise, why kill him? A cover story was created – that there was a network of couriers coming and going with memory sticks and instructions. All to show that bin Laden remained important.’

In July 2011, the Washington Post published what purported to be a summary of some of these materials. The story’s contradictions were glaring. It said the documents had resulted in more than four hundred intelligence reports within six weeks; it warned of unspecified al-Qaida plots; and it mentioned arrests of suspects ‘who are named or described in emails that bin Laden received’. The Post didn’t identify the suspects or reconcile that detail with the administration’s previous assertions that the Abbottabad compound had no internet connection. Despite their claims that the documents had produced hundreds of reports, the Post also quoted officials saying that their main value wasn’t the actionable intelligence they contained, but that they enabled ‘analysts to construct a more comprehensive portrait of al-Qaida’.

In May 2012, the Combating Terrorism Centre at West Point, a private research group, released translations it had made under a federal government contract of 175 pages of bin Laden documents. Reporters found none of the drama that had been touted in the days after the raid. Patrick Cockburn wrote about the contrast between the administration’s initial claims that bin Laden was the ‘spider at the centre of a conspiratorial web’ and what the translations actually showed: that bin Laden was ‘delusional’ and had ‘limited contact with the outside world outside his compound’.

The retired official disputed the authenticity of the West Point materials: ‘There is no linkage between these documents and the counterterrorism centre at the agency. No intelligence community analysis. When was the last time the CIA: 1) announced it had a significant intelligence find; 2) revealed the source; 3) described the method for processing the materials; 4) revealed the time-line for production; 5) described by whom and where the analysis was taking place, and 6) published the sensitive results before the information had been acted on? No agency professional would support this fairy tale.’


In June 2011, it was reported in the New York Times, the Washington Post and all over the Pakistani press that Amir Aziz had been held for questioning in Pakistan; he was, it was said, a CIA informant who had been spying on the comings and goings at the bin Laden compound. Aziz was released, but the retired official said that US intelligence was unable to learn who leaked the highly classified information about his involvement with the mission. Officials in Washington decided they ‘could not take a chance that Aziz’s role in obtaining bin Laden’s DNA also would become known’. A sacrificial lamb was needed, and the one chosen was Shakil Afridi, a 48-year-old Pakistani doctor and sometime CIA asset, who had been arrested by the Pakistanis in late May and accused of assisting the agency. ‘We went to the Pakistanis and said go after Afridi,’ the retired official said. ‘We had to cover the whole issue of how we got the DNA.’ It was soon reported that the CIA had organised a fake vaccination programme in Abbottabad with Afridi’s help in a failed attempt to obtain bin Laden’s DNA. Afridi’s legitimate medical operation was run independently of local health authorities, was well financed and offered free vaccinations against hepatitis B. Posters advertising the programme were displayed throughout the area. Afridi was later accused of treason and sentenced to 33 years in prison because of his ties to an extremist. News of the CIA-sponsored programme created widespread anger in Pakistan, and led to the cancellation of other international vaccination programmes that were now seen as cover for American spying.

The retired official said that Afridi had been recruited long before the bin Laden mission as part of a separate intelligence effort to get information about suspected terrorists in Abbottabad and the surrounding area. ‘The plan was to use vaccinations as a way to get the blood of terrorism suspects in the villages.’ Afridi made no attempt to obtain DNA from the residents of the bin Laden compound. The report that he did so was a hurriedly put together ‘CIA cover story creating “facts”’ in a clumsy attempt to protect Aziz and his real mission. ‘Now we have the consequences,’ the retired official said. ‘A great humanitarian project to do something meaningful for the peasants has been compromised as a cynical hoax.’ Afridi’s conviction was overturned, but he remains in prison on a murder charge.


In his address announcing the raid, Obama said that after killing bin Laden the Seals ‘took custody of his body’. The statement created a problem. In the initial plan it was to be announced a week or so after the fact that bin Laden was killed in a drone strike somewhere in the mountains on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border and that his remains had been identified by DNA testing. But with Obama’s announcement of his killing by the Seals everyone now expected a body to be produced. Instead, reporters were told that bin Laden’s body had been flown by the Seals to an American military airfield in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, and then straight to the USS Carl Vinson, a supercarrier on routine patrol in the North Arabian Sea. Bin Laden had then been buried at sea, just hours after his death. The press corps’s only sceptical moments at John Brennan’s briefing on 2 May were to do with the burial. The questions were short, to the point, and rarely answered. ‘When was the decision made that he would be buried at sea if killed?’ ‘Was this part of the plan all along?’ ‘Can you just tell us why that was a good idea?’ ‘John, did you consult a Muslim expert on that?’ ‘Is there a visual recording of this burial?’ When this last question was asked, Jay Carney, Obama’s press secretary, came to Brennan’s rescue: ‘We’ve got to give other people a chance here.’

‘We thought the best way to ensure that his body was given an appropriate Islamic burial,’ Brennan said, ‘was to take those actions that would allow us to do that burial at sea.’ He said ‘appropriate specialists and experts’ were consulted, and that the US military was fully capable of carrying out the burial ‘consistent with Islamic law’. Brennan didn’t mention that Muslim law calls for the burial service to be conducted in the presence of an imam, and there was no suggestion that one happened to be on board the Carl Vinson.

In a reconstruction of the bin Laden operation for Vanity Fair, Mark Bowden, who spoke to many senior administration officials, wrote that bin Laden’s body was cleaned and photographed at Jalalabad. Further procedures necessary for a Muslim burial were performed on the carrier, he wrote, ‘with bin Laden’s body being washed again and wrapped in a white shroud. A navy photographer recorded the burial in full sunlight, Monday morning, May 2.’ Bowden described the photos:

One frame shows the body wrapped in a weighted shroud. The next shows it lying diagonally on a chute, feet overboard. In the next frame the body is hitting the water. In the next it is visible just below the surface, ripples spreading outward. In the last frame there are only circular ripples on the surface. The mortal remains of Osama bin Laden were gone for good.

Bowden was careful not to claim that he had actually seen the photographs he described, and he recently told me he hadn’t seen them: ‘I’m always disappointed when I can’t look at something myself, but I spoke with someone I trusted who said he had seen them himself and described them in detail.’ Bowden’s statement adds to the questions about the alleged burial at sea, which has provoked a flood of Freedom of Information Act requests, most of which produced no information. One of them sought access to the photographs. The Pentagon responded that a search of all available records had found no evidence that any photographs had been taken of the burial. Requests on other issues related to the raid were equally unproductive. The reason for the lack of response became clear after the Pentagon held an inquiry into allegations that the Obama administration had provided access to classified materials to the makers of the film Zero Dark Thirty. The Pentagon report, which was put online in June 2013, noted that Admiral McRaven had ordered the files on the raid to be deleted from all military computers and moved to the CIA, where they would be shielded from FOIA requests by the agency’s ‘operational exemption’.

McRaven’s action meant that outsiders could not get access to the Carl Vinson’s unclassified logs. Logs are sacrosanct in the navy, and separate ones are kept for air operations, the deck, the engineering department, the medical office, and for command information and control. They show the sequence of events day by day aboard the ship; if there has been a burial at sea aboard the Carl Vinson, it would have been recorded.

There wasn’t any gossip about a burial among the Carl Vinson’s sailors. The carrier concluded its six-month deployment in June 2011. When the ship docked at its home base in Coronado, California, Rear Admiral Samuel Perez, commander of the Carl Vinson carrier strike group, told reporters that the crew had been ordered not to talk about the burial. Captain Bruce Lindsey, skipper of the Carl Vinson, told reporters he was unable to discuss it. Cameron Short, one of the crew of the Carl Vinson, told the Commercial-News of Danville, Illinois, that the crew had not been told anything about the burial. ‘All he knows is what he’s seen on the news,’ the newspaper reported.

The Pentagon did release a series of emails to the Associated Press. In one of them, Rear Admiral Charles Gaouette reported that the service followed ‘traditional procedures for Islamic burial’, and said none of the sailors on board had been permitted to observe the proceedings. But there was no indication of who washed and wrapped the body, or of which Arabic speaker conducted the service.

Within weeks of the raid, I had been told by two longtime consultants to Special Operations Command, who have access to current intelligence, that the funeral aboard the Carl Vinson didn’t take place. One consultant told me that bin Laden’s remains were photographed and identified after being flown back to Afghanistan. The consultant added: ‘At that point, the CIA took control of the body. The cover story was that it had been flown to the Carl Vinson.’ The second consultant agreed that there had been ‘no burial at sea’. He added that ‘the killing of bin Laden was political theatre designed to burnish Obama’s military credentials … The Seals should have expected the political grandstanding. It’s irresistible to a politician. Bin Laden became a working asset.’ Early this year, speaking again to the second consultant, I returned to the burial at sea. The consultant laughed and said: ‘You mean, he didn’t make it to the water?’

The retired official said there had been another complication: some members of the Seal team had bragged to colleagues and others that they had torn bin Laden’s body to pieces with rifle fire. The remains, including his head, which had only a few bullet holes in it, were thrown into a body bag and, during the helicopter flight back to Jalalabad, some body parts were tossed out over the Hindu Kush mountains – or so the Seals claimed. At the time, the retired official said, the Seals did not think their mission would be made public by Obama within a few hours: ‘If the president had gone ahead with the cover story, there would have been no need to have a funeral within hours of the killing. Once the cover story was blown, and the death was made public, the White House had a serious “Where’s the body?” problem. The world knew US forces had killed bin Laden in Abbottabad. Panic city. What to do? We need a “functional body” because we have to be able to say we identified bin Laden via a DNA analysis. It would be navy officers who came up with the “burial at sea” idea. Perfect. No body. Honourable burial following sharia law. Burial is made public in great detail, but Freedom of Information documents confirming the burial are denied for reasons of “national security”. It’s the classic unravelling of a poorly constructed cover story – it solves an immediate problem but, given the slightest inspection, there is no back-up support. There never was a plan, initially, to take the body to sea, and no burial of bin Laden at sea took place.’ The retired official said that if the Seals’ first accounts are to be believed, there wouldn’t have been much left of bin Laden to put into the sea in any case.


It was inevitable that the Obama administration’s lies, misstatements and betrayals would create a backlash. ‘We’ve had a four-year lapse in co-operation,’ the retired official said. ‘It’s taken that long for the Pakistanis to trust us again in the military-to-military counterterrorism relationship – while terrorism was rising all over the world … They felt Obama sold them down the river. They’re just now coming back because the threat from Isis, which is now showing up there, is a lot greater and the bin Laden event is far enough away to enable someone like General Durrani to come out and talk about it.’ Generals Pasha and Kayani have retired and both are reported to be under investigation for corruption during their time in office.

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s long-delayed report on CIA torture, released last December, documented repeated instances of official lying, and suggested that the CIA’s knowledge of bin Laden’s courier was sketchy at best and predated its use of waterboarding and other forms of torture. The report led to international headlines about brutality and waterboarding, along with gruesome details about rectal feeding tubes, ice baths and threats to rape or murder family members of detainees who were believed to be withholding information. Despite the bad publicity, the report was a victory for the CIA. Its major finding – that the use of torture didn’t lead to discovering the truth – had already been the subject of public debate for more than a decade. Another key finding – that the torture conducted was more brutal than Congress had been told – was risible, given the extent of public reporting and published exposés by former interrogators and retired CIA officers. The report depicted tortures that were obviously contrary to international law as violations of rules or ‘inappropriate activities’ or, in some cases, ‘management failures’. Whether the actions described constitute war crimes was not discussed, and the report did not suggest that any of the CIA interrogators or their superiors should be investigated for criminal activity. The agency faced no meaningful consequences as a result of the report.

The retired official told me that the CIA leadership had become experts in derailing serious threats from Congress: ‘They create something that is horrible but not that bad. Give them something that sounds terrible. “Oh my God, we were shoving food up a prisoner’s ass!” Meanwhile, they’re not telling the committee about murders, other war crimes, and secret prisons like we still have in Diego Garcia. The goal also was to stall it as long as possible, which they did.’

The main theme of the committee’s 499-page executive summary is that the CIA lied systematically about the effectiveness of its torture programme in gaining intelligence that would stop future terrorist attacks in the US. The lies included some vital details about the uncovering of an al-Qaida operative called Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, who was said to be the key al-Qaida courier, and the subsequent tracking of him to Abbottabad in early 2011. The agency’s alleged intelligence, patience and skill in finding al-Kuwaiti became legend after it was dramatised in Zero Dark Thirty.

The Senate report repeatedly raised questions about the quality and reliability of the CIA’s intelligence about al-Kuwaiti. In 2005 an internal CIA report on the hunt for bin Laden noted that ‘detainees provide few actionable leads, and we have to consider the possibility that they are creating fictitious characters to distract us or to absolve themselves of direct knowledge about bin Ladin [sic].’ A CIA cable a year later stated that ‘we have had no success in eliciting actionable intelligence on bin Laden’s location from any detainees.’ The report also highlighted several instances of CIA officers, including Panetta, making false statements to Congress and the public about the value of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ in the search for bin Laden’s couriers.

Obama today is not facing re-election as he was in the spring of 2011. His principled stand on behalf of the proposed nuclear agreement with Iran says much, as does his decision to operate without the support of the conservative Republicans in Congress. High-level lying nevertheless remains the modus operandi of US policy, along with secret prisons, drone attacks, Special Forces night raids, bypassing the chain of command, and cutting out those who might say no.