Photographs: Faisal Mahmood/Reuters Lalit K Jha in Washington
Locked down in his Abbottabad hideout which he never left in six years, Osama bin Laden followed 'absolutely phenomenal operations security', and was taken by surprise when attacked by the United States forces, a top American counter-terrorism official has said.
Virtually giving a clean chit to Pakistan's authorities, John Brennan, assistant to the US President for homeland security and counterterrorism, said in his speech at the Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies that the Al Qaeda chief maintained high level security and secrecy at his hideout.
"He (bin Laden) was there for six years. To our knowledge, he never left that compound once he got there. A couple of folks who basically served as his interlocutors with the outside world, provided the type of support that he needed," he said.
'Osama became confident and relaxed in Abbottabad'
Brennan said Osama was relaxed in his Abbottabad hideout and confident about his security there. However, he added that this did not mean there weren't elements in Pakistan which knew about bin Laden's presence.
"So this is something that I don't know how many people in Al Qaeda, in the senior leadership ranks, knew exactly where bin Laden was. But he is someone who knew that if he...let it be known of his whereabouts... his days were going to be numbered. I think he was -- he became, then, confident and relaxed in Abbottabad. I think he was totally taken by surprise when our brave SEALs confronted him that night," Brennan said.
Brennan said the Pakistani leadership too was taken 'totally unawares' by the fact that bin Laden was found in a compound in Abbottabad, close to a military academy and not too far from the nation's capital.
'Elements in Pak may have known, provided assistance to Osama'
"They are trying to figure out why, in fact, he was able to be there for six years. That's not to say that there aren't elements somewhere within the Pakistani broad establishment that were knowledgeable, provided assistance.
But you know, looking at that situation, bin Laden and the people at that compound practiced absolutely phenomenal OPSEC (operations security)," Brennan said. The Al Qaeda chief was killed in a secret US raid in Abbottabad on May 2.
"So again, I have not seen anything (evidence of top Pakistan leadership knowing about it). This is one of the big questions that we had right away and we raised it at the senior-most levels of the Pakistani government. They tried to figure out the same thing," he said.
'Osama was concerned about Al Qaeda's long-term viability'
Calling Abbottabad as one of the lessons learned for Pakistan, he said there have been individuals in the past from Al Qaeda that have used Abbottabad as a transit point from Islamabad into Waziristan.
Brennan also said that information seized from bin Laden's hideout revealed that he was concerned about the Al Qaeda's long-term viability.
"He called for more large-scale attacks against America, but encountered resistance from his followers and he went for years without seeing any spectacular attacks. He saw his senior leaders being taken down, one by one, and worried about the ability to replace them effectively," Brennan said.
According to a White House fact sheet, bin Laden saw that Al Qaeda was losing the larger battle for hearts and minds as it had murdered many innocent civilians, most of them Muslims, permanently tarnishing its image.