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'ISI helped Osama escape US dragnet in Tora Bora'

Last updated on: September 13, 2011 18:04 IST

'ISI helped Osama escape US dragnet in Tora Bora'

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Pakistan's military-run Inter-Services Intelligence could have provided protection to slain al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden for a period of time, suggests the latest issue of The New Yorker magazine.

Former Afghan intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh told the magazine' writer Dexter Filkins, a Pulitzer prize winner, that an ISI operative Syed Akbar Sabir had escorted bin  Laden from the Pakistani region of Chitral to Peshawar, passing through Kunar Province, in Afghanistan, along the way.

"We believed that he was part of the ISI operation to care for bin Laden," Saleh, who directed the Afghan intelligence service from 2004 to 2010, said.

He said the ISI operative had been arrested by Afghan intelligence in 2005 when he narrated the events unfolding in Afghanistan, post 9/11.

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Image: The ISI insignia

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Intel officer escorted Haqqani fighters into Afghanistan

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The article talks about another ISI agent Fida Muhammad, who too had been arrested by Afghan intelligence agents.

The article says Muhammad, who described himself as civilian employee of ISI, said in May that for much of the past decade, he had escorted Haqqani fighters from their sanctuaries in Pakistan into Afghanistan, where they fought against the Americans.

Muhammad said his most memorable job came in December, 2001, when he was part of a large ISI operation intended to help jihadi fighters escape from Tora Bora: the mountainous region where bin Laden was trapped for several weeks, until he mysteriously slipped away.

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Image: A file photo of Osama bin Laden

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'There were so many Arabs'

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Muhammad said that when the American bombing of Tora Bora began, in late November, he and other ISI operatives had gone there, and into other parts of eastern Afghanistan, to evacuate training camps whose occupants included al-Qaeda fighters.

Muhammad was part of a four-man team, and there were dozens of such teams. He estimated that the ISI teams evacuated as many as 1,500 militants from Tora Bora

and other camps: "Not only Arabs but Pakistanis, Uzbeks, and Chechens. I didn't see bin Laden. But there were so many Arabs."

The operation had been sanctioned at the highest levels of the ISI. However the ISI has denied Muhammad's account.

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Image: Smoke from United States bombing is seen at a command post in the Tora Bora mountains
Photographs: Erik de Castro/Reuters
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'Intel officer was very close to militant networks'

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The magazine quotes Bruce Riedel, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer saying that former ISI chief Nadeem Taj was "deeply involved with Pakistani militants, particularly those fighting against India".

Riedel, who oversaw President Barack Obama's initial review of strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, said, "Taj was very close to the militant networks. And his fingerprints were on everything."

The magazine said, "Before taking over the ISI, Taj was the commandant of the Pakistani military academy in Abbottabad. That is, he was the senior military official in Abbottabad at the time that American officials believe bin Laden began living there.

"Taj retired from the Pakistani Army in April, just days before the raid in Abbottabad. Attempts to track him down in Pakistan were unsuccessful."

Riedel said, "Taj is the right person at the right time. If the ISI was helping to hide bin Laden, then it would make sense to park him somewhere permanently. Who better to be the park policeman than Musharraf's favorite general?"

Image: Osama's mansion in Abbottabad, Pakistan
Photographs: Faisal Mahmood/Reuters
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