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'Osama raid took Pakistan Army by surprise'

By Rezaul H Laskar
July 26, 2011 15:51 IST
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The United States raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad was not known to "any tier" of the Pakistani army which was "taken by surprise" by the May 2 operation, a top military officer told an inquiry panel probing the Al Qaeda leader's presence in Pakistan.

Maj Gen Ashfaq Nadeem Ahmad, the Director General of Military Operations, said, "The US acted in an environment of trust and the (Pakistani) army was, therefore, taken by surprise by the Abbottabad operation."

The Abbottabad raid was not known to "any tier" in the Pakistani army, Ahmad said while deposing yesterday before the commission.

He provided a detailed briefing to the inquiry commission on the US operation. He explained the Pakistan Army's perspective on the covert operation and informed the panel about contacts made by the army chief with the air force chief, foreign secretary, prime minister and President after learning about the incident in Abbottabad, an official statement said.

Responding to a question by a member of the commission about bin Laden's presence in a garrison area, Ahmad explained that Abbottabad Cantonment was an open area that hosted only training institutions and had no "fighting troops".

These institutions had their own security in place to deal with any threat, he said.

When the commission raised questions about the safety and protection of nuclear assets and strategic sites, Ahmad said such facilities were "very well protected and were under air and ground protection" of the armed forces. He also gave details about the Pakistani army's posts along the border with Afghanistan.

The panel, headed by Supreme Court Justice Javed Iqbal, has been asked by the government to ascertain how bin Laden managed to live in Pakistan for such a long time, investigate the US operation that killed him, determine the nature and causes of lapses by authorities and make suitable recommendations.

Ahmad further said the army is involved in operations in different areas to fight militancy. The army's presence is meant to eliminate militancy and establish the writ of state in these areas, he said. No threat whatsoever is envisaged from Afghanistan and the International Security Assistance Force, both of whom are allies of Pakistan in the fight against terror, Ahmad said.

Pakistan and the US and ISAF forces conduct anti-militancy operations on their respective sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and plans for operations close to the border are fully shared, he added. Inter-Services Intelligence chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha will brief the commission at its next meeting on August 1, officials said.

An unnamed member of the commission also told Dawn newspaper that the panel had taken notice of a recent statement by a member, Lt Gen (retired) Nadeem Ahmed, that the ISI was unaware of bin Laden's presence in Abbottabad.

Justice Javed Iqbal barred members of the commission from issuing any statement regarding the probe.

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Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad
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