May 4, 2011

After the raid: Mining the haul

Erica Werner and Kimberly Dozier, The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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Pakistani security officials leave after the examining the house today where al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan.


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Five people were killed in the raid, officials said: bin Laden; his son; his most trusted courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti; and al-Kuwaiti's wife and brother. The latest White House account leaves open the question of whether there was any gunfire from bin Laden's defenders in his room before the commandos shot him.

Obama prepared to visit New York City's ground zero on Thursday to mark the end to one of history's most intense manhunts and to remember anew the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks at the hands of bin Laden's al-Qaida organization. He invited former President George W. Bush, who once famously said he wanted bin Laden "dead or alive," to join him, but the former president declined.

In Washington, questions flew about whether Pakistan was complicit in protecting the mastermind of those attacks. Several Republicans and Democrats in Congress have raised the possibility of cutting off U.S. aid to Pakistan. The Pakistani government has denied suggestions that its security forces knew anything about bin Laden's hideout or failed to spot suspicious signs in a city with a heavy military presence.

In a closed-door briefing for lawmakers Tuesday, Panetta said, "Pakistan was involved or incompetent," a U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting.

Pakistan on Tuesday criticized the American raid in its sovereign territory as "unauthorized unilateral action."

That was a sharp contrast to the initial reaction from Pakistani officials: A US official said today the first reaction from the Pakistanis was to congratulate the United States for the Sunday operation. The sentiment came from Pakistani Army chief Ashfaq Kayani, when the chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen called him to inform him about the completed operation.

While tensions grew, efforts also were apparent to contain the damage in an important if checkered relationship. The Obama administration pushed back against the talk of punishing Pakistan. So did Republican House Speaker John Boehner, who said, "Having a robust partnership with Pakistan is critical to breaking the back of al-Qaida and the rest of them."

And Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that despite difficult relations with Pakistan, "They have allowed us to pursue our drone program. We've taken out over 16 of the top 20 al-Qaida leaders because of that. That's cooperation."

Rogers called the failure to find bin Laden an embarrassment for Pakistan, but warned against cutting off aid, saying: "They need us and we need them. Frustrating? Absolutely. Are they going to be the best partners we've ever had? No."

For the long-term legacy of the most successful counterterrorism operation in U.S. history, the fact that bin Laden was unarmed is unlikely to matter much to the Americans he declared war against. The CIA's top counterterrorism official once promised to bring bin Laden's head back on a stake.

Yet just 24 hours before the White House acknowledged that bin Laden had been unarmed, Obama's chief counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, said, "If we had the opportunity to take bin Laden alive, if he didn't present any threat, the individuals involved were able and prepared to do that."

Will it matter around the world? Some may try to make much of it in Pakistan and elsewhere.

"This country has gone through a lot of trauma in terms of violence, and whether or not he was armed is not going to make a difference to people who were happy to see the back of him," said Mosharraf Zaidi, a political analyst and columnist in Pakistan. Yet, he said, "The majority have a mistrust of America, and this will reinforce their mistrust of America."


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