President Barack Obama went on national TV late on May 1 to announce that al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had been killed in a US raid on a “compound deep inside Pakistan.” Media reports indicated the target was a mansion in the Bilal area of Abbottabad, about 100 kilometers north of Islamabad. What Obama called “a small team of Americans”—presumably Special Forces troops—was apparently flown to the site in four helicopters. In a brief firefight, bin Laden was shot in the head, and his body in said to be in US custody. Three others were reportedly killed, including a son of the al-Qaeda leader. Also killed, according to unnamed Pakistani officials, was a woman who was being used as a human shield. Obama said there were no US casualties. However, an anonymous Pakistani intelligence official said one of the helicopters crashed after it was hit by fire from the ground. Another anonymous Pakistani security official told AFP: “Yes, I can confirm that he was killed in a highly sensitive intelligence operation.” Asked whether Pakistani intelligence participated in the operation he would only reiterate: “It was a highly sensitive intelligence operation.” (AFP, AP, Radio Australia, BBC World Service, May 2; VOA, May 1)
Bin Laden was widely believed to be in Pakistan‘s remote tribal territories along the Afghan border. Instead, he was apparently in Abbottabad, a military garrison town in the country’s administrative center. Ironically, just a week earlier, a regional army chief had spoken in Abbottabad to boast that his forces had “broken the back” of Islamist militants in response to US criticisms of Pakistan’s efforts to crack down on Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked rebels. “The terrorists’ backbone has been broken and God willing we will soon prevail,” Gen. Ashfaq Kayani said at the Pakistan Military Academy in Abbottabad. The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, had accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency of having ties to the Taliban. (AFP, April 23)
See our last post on the politics of the GWOT.