Pak struggles to explain Osamas presence

Islamabad: Embarrassed by the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden near a military training academy deep inside Pakistan, the country`s army and intelligence set-up took refuge by dismissing it as an "intelligence failure".

In an apparent damage control exercise a day after the sensational raid, the army struggled to explain the role, if any, it played in the hunt for the world`s most wanted man.

"We had been looking for him in no-go areas, unaware that he was living so close to an installation of ours.

Yes, it is an intelligence failure," a senior unnamed military official told the Dawn newspaper, giving a new spin.

An unnamed senior army officer acknowledged to The News daily that the US would have gone to any length to get the man behind the 9/11 terror attacks.

"The stakes were very, very high. In order to reach Osama, the US would disregard anything standing in its way: whether Pakistanis, the army, intelligence, anything," the officer was quoted as saying.

The officer further said there was "no intelligence-sharing this time" and that the US had carried out a "very swift operation".

Pakistan had its limitations and, in the final analysis, was better off with the death of bin Laden, he contended.

As Pakistani military officials tried to play down the killing of bin Laden in a compound less than a kilometre from the Pakistan Military Academy, "they found very few takers of their explanation", the Dawn reported.

"This was hardly surprising as it is hard to believe that the paranoid security agencies never conducted a reconnaissance of the vicinity of their main training facility during times when military installations faced a continuous threat of terrorist attacks," the report said.

"Odder still is the fact that the military authorities or the intelligence sleuths never felt the need to find out who was using a heavily guarded structure that was protected by barbed wires and fortified walls and had the extra precaution of surveillance cameras," it said.

The Dawn reported it was "tragically comical" that bin Laden`s compound was a stone`s throw from the spot where army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani attended a parade around a week ago and said publicly that his forces had broken the "terrorist backbone".

Though Pakistani military officials insisted they had not been taken on board by the US about the operation to get bin Laden, the Dawn noted that a "flurry of activity that took place in the past week or so indicates that something was up".

ISAF commander General David Petraeus paid a visit to Islamabad on April 25 and he is said to have held "a short and crisp" discussion with Kayani at Chaklala airbase, an unusual venue for a meeting.

The two generals are even said to have taken a short trip to an undisclosed location in an aircraft.

The same night Petraeus joined a White House meeting chaired by President Barack Obama through teleconferencing.

Observers feel that Obama referred to that meeting in his speech yesterday in which he announced the death of bin Laden.

On April 26, Pakistan`s top military coordination body ? the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee ? held a session that was attended by ISI chief General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, who is not a member of the body.

The meeting was unscheduled, the Dawn reported.

Another anomaly in the Pakistan military`s account of the raid is its explanation of how four US helicopters evaded the country`s air defence system for about an hour as they flew in from Jalalabad and returned after a 40-minute long raid, the daily said.

One official claimed that the helicopters succeeded in avoiding detection by flying low while another said Pakistan`s air defence systems were jammed by the Americans.

However, the report said this did not gel with Obama`s appreciation for Pakistan`s cooperation in the operation.

The Pakistan Foreign Office`s statement on bin Laden`s killing said the raid was carried out by US forces but was silent on Pakistan`s role in the operation.