Barack Obama in his now-released memoir A Promised Land has revealed one of Pakistan’s dirty secrets.
Recalling the May 2, 2011, raid against the world’s most wanted terrorist Osama bin Laden, the former US President writes he ruled out involving Pakistan in the operation because it was an “open secret” that there were elements within Pakistan’s military and intelligence services that maintained links with the Taliban and perhaps even al-Qaida.
Al Qaida head Osama had carried out the 9/11 attacks on New York’s twin towers, killing nearly 3,000 people. He was killed in a covert operation by a US Navy SEAL team at his Abbottabad compound in Pakistan.
Giving a detailed account of the raid, Obama says the then defence secretary Robert Gates and current President-elect Joe Biden, who was then the Vice President, had opposed the top-secret operation.
In the first of the two-part memoirs that was released on Tuesday, America’s first black President describes the various options of killing the elusive Qaida chief once it became clear he was living on the outskirts of a Pakistani military cantonment in Abbottabad.
Obama writes: “Based on what I’d heard, I decided we had enough information to begin developing options for an attack on the compound. While the CIA team continued to work on identifying the Pacer, I asked Tom Donilon and John Brennan to explore what a raid would look like.
“The need for secrecy added to the challenge; if even the slightest hint of our lead on bin Laden leaked, we knew our opportunity would be lost. As a result, only a handful of people across the entire federal government were read into the planning phase of the operation.”
He reveals: “We had one other constraint: Whatever option we chose could not involve the Pakistanis.”
“Although Pakistan’s government cooperated with us on a host of counterterrorism operations and provided a vital supply path for our forces in Afghanistan, it was an open secret that certain elements inside the country’s military, and especially its intelligence services, maintained links to the Taliban and perhaps even al-Qaeda, sometimes using them as strategic assets to ensure that the Afghan government remained weak and unable to align itself with Pakistan’s number one rival, India.”
“The fact that the Abbottabad compound was just a few miles from the Pakistan military’s equivalent of West Point only heightened the possibility that anything we told the Pakistanis could end up tipping off our target.”
“Whatever we chose to do in Abbottabad, then, would involve violating the territory of a putative ally in the most egregious way possible, short of war — raising both the diplomatic stakes and the operational complexities,” he writes.
Finally, the US had two options to consider — demolish the compound with an air strike or else authorise a special ops mission, under which a select team would covert fly to Pakistan, raid the compound and get out of the country before local police or military could react.
Obama and his team, despite the risks involved, opted for the second option. A day before the final approval for the raid, both Gates and Biden recommended against it.
“As had been true in every major decision I’d made as President, I appreciated Joe’s willingness to buck the prevailing mood and ask tough questions, often in the interest of giving me the space I needed for my own internal deliberations,” Obama writes.
After completing the raid successfully, Obama made a series of domestic and international calls, the toughest of which he hoped to be with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari.
However, Zardari expressed support and congratulated Obama.
He writes: “‘Whatever the fallout,’ he said, ‘it’s very good news. He showed genuine emotion, recalling how his wife, Benazir Bhutto, had been killed by extremists with reported ties to al-Qaeda.”
Obama said the then US Navy Admiral Mike Mullen called Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. “…while the conversation had been polite, Kayani had requested that we come clean on the raid and its target as quickly as possible in order to help his people manage the reaction of the Pakistani public,” he writes.