Hiding in plain sight

23/04/2019 Posted by admin

by Dawna Friesen

There are numerous things that make Osama bin Laden’s capture and death remarkable: that he survived as long as he did; that the end, when it came, took just 40 minutes and a small team of Navy Seals; and that he died after months – possibly years – of hiding in plain sight.

Pakistan has a great deal to answer for. It’s always been assumed the head of al-Qaida was there somewhere, but he was thought to be deep inside Pakistan’s tribal territories, a remote and lawless part of the country. I travelled through part of it back in 2002, attempting to get to the mountainous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It seemed like the ideal hiding place – vast, ungoverned, with no modern conveniences like roads or electricity. After eight hours driving on a dry riverbed, we were turned back by a horde of armed men who threatened to kill us if we carried on. It struck me there were not only plenty of places for bin Laden to hide, but he’d have plenty of protection.

Now we know he wasn’t cowering in a cave. He was living in an affluent town 35 miles north of the Pakistani capital Islamabad, just down the road from a military academy. The neighbourhood is home to many retired Pakistani military officials. How the world’s most wanted man got there, and who sheltered him in a luxury compound that was reportedly built specially for him are the questions Pakistan is going to have to answer. Pakistan long denied bin Laden was anywhere on its soil, when in fact, he was being given sanctuary there.

This photo of a section of a poster taken from the FBI website shows Osama bin Laden.

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Pakistan is an ally in the war on terror. It’s the world’s second largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid – $1.5 billion last year. The money is aimed at strengthening what’s considered a vital strategic partnership between the two countries.

But does it buy trust? No. Almost no one believes Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI, didn’t know bin Laden was there. Which is why the Americans told no one – certainly not the Pakistanis – about the raid on the compound.

During a White House briefing, a senior administration official pointedly noted that “we shared our intelligence on this bin Laden compound with no other country, including Pakistan.” He added, “That was for one reason and one reason alone: we believed it was essential to the security of the operation and our personnel. In fact, only a very small group of people inside our own government knew of this operation in advance.”

The U.S. didn’t, and doesn’t trust Pakistan. Its intelligence service has long been suspected of having ties to militant groups, groups that fund, support, and train men to kill American and coalition soldiers.

Now the country will also be known as the place that harbored the world’s most wanted man.

Dawna is Global National’s anchor and executive editor, based in Vancouver. Follow her on Twitter: @DFriesenGlobal.

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