It has been 11 years since the 9/11 terror strike, masterminded by Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, and its devastating aftermath changed the world. Laden was killed in a covert operation -- called Neptune Spear -- by United States Special Forces at his hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011.
Officials working in various Indian security agencies, when probed by rediff.com, denied having any knowledge of Operation Neptune Spear, claiming the US administration had kept the details of it top secret.
A tell-all book written by Mark Owen, a former member of the Navy SEALS who was part of the elite team which killed Laden, includes a map showing the routes taken by the two NH-47 Chinhook helicopters which had ferried the men to Abbottabad.
The route suggests that the Navy SEALS team crossed the Pakistan border with India before looping around and approaching Abbottabad from the south-east, rather than approaching directly from the west (or west-northwest).
Did the US authorities seek permission from India before using its airspace? Did they confide in Indian officials about their operation or make up some fictitious reason for their mission?
According to sources, US authorities had sought permission to use India's airspace to purportedly fly to Afghanistan, not Pakistan. It is doubtful that Indian authorities would have denied permission for a mission to eliminate Laden, but American officials kept quiet about their actual motive.
American aircraft and choppers had earlier used this particular route many times to carry out operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan, with permission from Indian authorities. In the days before the operation, this route was used many times by American forces to avoid any suspicion or questions on the night of the operation.
On the night that Operation Neptune Spear was carried out, India was aware of US helicopters crossing their air space, but had no idea that the final assault was going to be held in Pakistan, not Afghanistan.
"After it was confirmed that there was no risk to Indian subjects, permission was granted to the American choppers. This was a high-risk operation for the Obama administration; the target was of very high value. In such a situation, they did not want to reveal the details to anyone. American officials did not even inform their closest allies -- the British -- about the operation," said a senior official.
Though Laden fuelled some fundamental ideology in certain sections of India, he was never perceived as a serious threat to the country. But for the US, he was the enemy no. one who had eluded capture for years, and this was a make-or-break operation for them.
Indian agencies learnt about Operation Neptune Spear only after Laden's death. Several circulars were then issued to the Intelligence Bureau, urging that security and vigilance needed to be stepped up across India and the agency needed to curb repercussions of the Al Qaeda chief's death, if any.
Some Indian intelligence officials believe that as India has significant interest in Afghanistan and the War on Terror, it could have helped in the operation. India had earlier shared intelligence inputs regarding groups like Al Qaeda and the Taliban with the US administration.
Laden's role in the 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai is still an issue of debate. The only link the Al Qaeda has to the Mumbai terror strike is via Ilyas Kashmiri, who had boasted about his connections to the terror outfit while talking to a Pakistani journalist. India has always maintained that the 26/11 attack was the handiwork of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, which carried it out with the help of the Inter Services Intelligence, and it has never really elaborated on Laden's involvement.
Hafiz Saeed or a Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi were and are the most wanted terror operatives for India, not Laden. Saeed is currently a free man while Lakhvi's trial has been dragging on endlessly in Pakistan.
Pakistan has refused to hand over either of the terrorists to India, claiming lack of adequate evidence against them.