REUTERS - Osama bin Laden likely had “some sort” of a support network inside Pakistan, U.S. President Barack Obama said on Sunday, but added it will take investigations by Pakistan and the United States to find out the nature of that support.
“We think there had to be some sort of support network for Bin Laden inside of Pakistan,” Obama said in an excerpt of an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” program to be aired in full later on Sunday.
“But we don’t know who or what that support network was. We don’t know whether there might have been some people inside of government, people outside of government, and that’s something that we have to investigate and, more importantly, the Pakistani government has to investigate,” Obama said.
The interview comes a week after the al Qaeda leader was killed by U.S. commandos in a garrison town a short drive from Pakistan’s capital.
Pakistan’s government has “indicated they have a profound interest in finding out what kinds of support networks bin Laden might have had,” Obama said. “But these are questions that we’re not going to be able to answer three or four days after the event. It’s going to take some time for us to be able to exploit the intelligence that we were able to gather on site.”
In other television appearances by administration officials on Sunday the White House took some heat off Pakistan’s government, saying it had no evidence that Islamabad knew bin Laden was living in the country.
“I can tell you directly that I’ve not seen evidence that would tell us that the political, the military, or the intelligence leadership had foreknowledge of bin Laden,” U.S. national security adviser Tom Donilon told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani is scheduled to “take the nation into confidence” in parliament on Monday, his first statement to the people more than a week after the attack on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, 30 miles (50 km) north of Islamabad, embarrassed the country and raised fears of a new rift between Islamabad and Washington.
Suspicion has deepened that Pakistan’s pervasive Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency, which has a long history of contacts with militant groups, may have had ties with the al Qaeda leader—or that some of its agents did.
Pakistan has dismissed such suggestions and says it has paid the highest price in human life and money supporting the U.S. war on militancy launched after bin Laden’s followers staged the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, told ABC’s “This Week” his government would act on the results of the investigation.
“And heads will roll, once the investigation has been completed. Now, if those heads are rolled on account of incompetence, we will share that information with you. And if, God forbid, somebody’s complicity is discovered, there will be zero tolerance for that, as well.”
The ambassador said Pakistan had “many jihadi has-beens from the 1980s who are still alive and well and kicking, and some of them could have been helping them, but they are not in the state or government of Pakistan today.”
Doubts about bin Laden's influence
Donilon said Pakistani officials also needed to provide U.S authorities with intelligence they had gathered from the fortified compound where bin Laden was killed, and access to his three wives who are in Pakistani custody.
But he added that despite difficulties in the U.S.-Pakistani relationship, “We’ve also had to work very closely with Pakistan in our counter-terror efforts. More terrorists and extremists have been captured or killed in Pakistan than anyplace else.”
Pakistani security officials reacted with skepticism to a U.S. assertion that bin Laden was actively engaged in directing his far-flung network from his compound in Abbottabad where he was killed on May 2.
Washington has said that, based on a trove of documents the size of a small college library and computer equipment seized in the raid, bin Laden’s hideout was an “active command and control center” for al Qaeda where he was involved in plotting future attacks on the United States.
Pakistani officials said the fact that there was no internet connection or even telephone line into the compound where the world’s most-wanted man was hiding raised doubts about his centrality to al Qaeda.
“It sounds ridiculous,” said a senior Pakistani intelligence official. “It doesn’t sound like he was running a terror network.”
Analysts have long maintained that, years before bin Laden’s death, al Qaeda had fragmented into a decentralized group that operated tactically without him.
On Saturday, the White House released five video clips of bin Laden taken from the compound, most of them showing the al Qaeda leader, his beard dyed black, evidently rehearsing the video-taped speeches he sometimes distributed to his followers.
None of the videos was released with sound. A U.S. intelligence official said it had been removed because the United States did not want to transmit bin Laden’s propaganda. But he said they contained the usual criticism of the United States as well as capitalism.
While several video segments showed him rehearsing, one showed an aging and grey-bearded bin Laden in a scruffy room, wrapped in a blanket and wearing a ski cap while watching videotapes of himself.
“This compound in Abbottabad was an active command and control center for al Qaeda’s top leader and it’s clear ... that he was not just a strategic thinker for the group,” the U.S. intelligence official said in Washington. “He was active in operational planning and in driving tactical decisions.”
Donilon reiterated the assertion on Sunday talk shows, telling NBC: “Osama bin Laden ...had an operational and strategic direction role,” in al Qaeda.
The dueling narratives of bin Laden reflect Washington’s and Islamabad’s interests in peddling their own versions of bin Laden’s hidden life behind the walls of his compound.
Stressing bin Laden’s weakness makes his discovery just a few minutes’ walk from a military academy less embarrassing for Pakistan, but playing up his importance makes the U.S. operation all the more victorious.
The competing claims came as senior Pakistani officials said bin Laden may have lived in Pakistan for more than seven years before he was shot dead.
One of bin Laden’s widows, Amal Ahmed Abdulfattah, told investigators bin Laden and his family had spent five years in Abbottabad.
Abdulfattah, along with two other wives and several children, were among 15 or 16 people detained by Pakistani authorities at the compound after the raid.
She said that before Abbottabad, bin Laden had stayed in a nearby village for nearly 2 ½ years.
Residents of the village of Chak Shah Mohammad at the end of a bumpy road flanked by fields of wheat, were both puzzled and a little scared to find themselves at the focus of the investigation.
“Everyone in the village knows when a cow has a calf so how could bin Laden and his family hide here?” Mohammad Naseer, a 65-year-old retired soldier, said as he took a break from working his fields. “I can say for sure he wasn’t here.”