WASHINGTON, May 4 – The United States revealed on Tuesday that Osama bin Laden was unarmed when US commandos shot him dead and that Pakistani authorities had been kept in the dark because they might have tipped off the Al-Qaeda leader.
Unusually frank remarks from the CIA chief betrayed the extent of the distrust between the United States and Pakistan, a nuclear-armed ally and key partner in the war against the resurgent Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan.
"It was decided that any effort to work with the Pakistanis could jeopardize the mission," Leon Panetta told Time magazine. "They might alert the targets."
US officials, meanwhile, debated whether to scotch conspiracy theories by releasing a "gruesome" photo of the dead bin Laden, conscious that such an image would likely inflame strong passions in some Muslim countries.
The White House gave the fullest account yet of the dramatic and momentous raid on Sunday night that killed the architect of the September 11, 2001 attacks and sparked scenes of relief and joy around the Western world.
But officials did not clearly explain why bin Laden was shot dead and not captured given that he was unarmed, fuelling speculation that the elite Navy SEAL team had been ordered on a kill mission.
"In the room with bin Laden, a woman -bin Laden\’s wife – rushed the US assaulter and was shot in the leg but not killed," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. "Bin Laden was then shot and killed. He was not armed."
When pressed further, Carney said there had been significant resistance, a "volatile firefight," and insisted: "We were prepared to capture him if that was possible."
The fact that, after a years-long manhunt, bin Laden turned up in an fortified compound in Abbottabad, home to the Pakistani equivalent of the West Point and Sandhurst elite military academies just two hours\’ drive north of Islamabad, has been greeted with incredulity.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari rejected as "baseless" charges that his country extends safe haven to extremists, but outraged US lawmakers are calling for billions of dollars in aid to be cut back or dropped entirely.
The Obama administration last year said it would seek another $2 billion for Pakistan\’s military, on top of a five-year, $7.5 billion civilian package approved in 2009 aimed at weakening the allure of extremists.
US analysts were scouring documents and computer files seized from bin Laden\’s hideout for evidence after top counter-terrorism official John Brennan said it was "inconceivable" he had not had some kind of support network in Pakistan.
For a decade, Islamabad has been America\’s wary Afghan war ally, despite widespread public opposition and militant bomb attacks across the nuclear-armed country that have killed several thousand people.
But Pakistan has never been fully trusted by either Kabul or Washington, which accuse its powerful military of fostering the Afghan Taliban it spawned during the 1980s resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
Pakistani intelligence officials said the nation\’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency had no idea bin Laden was holed up in Abbottabad, despite searching the compound in 2003 while it was still under construction.
In a Washington Post opinion piece, Zardari acknowledged the US commandos carried out the raid without Pakistani collaboration — but stressed Islamabad had initially helped to identify the Al-Qaeda courier who led them to bin Laden.
US officials say DNA tests have proven conclusively that the man shot above the eye in Sunday\’s raid was indeed the Al-Qaeda leader who boasted about the deaths of nearly 3,000 people in the September 11 attacks.
But they are also mulling whether to release a photo as proof.
"It is fair to say it is a gruesome photograph… it could be inflammatory," Carney said. "We are reviewing the situation."
In the operation, which lasted less than 40 minutes, Navy SEALs approached in two helicopters and stormed bin Laden\’s compound, which stood out from other properties because of its towering perimeter walls and heavy security.
In addition to the bin Laden family, two other families resided there: one on the first floor of the main residence and another in a second building.
"There was concern that bin Laden would oppose the capture operation and indeed he resisted," said Carney.
He noted that two Al-Qaeda couriers and a woman were killed on the first floor of the building, while bin Laden and his family were found on the second and third floor. The fifth person killed in the raid was believed to be one of the Al-Qaeda leader\’s sons.
After the firefight, other residents of the compound were moved to a safe location as the US team detonated a damaged helicopter before leaving for the USS Carl Vinson in the North Arabian Sea.
US officials have revealed how the trail for bin Laden had gone cold for years until August 2010, when the CIA tracked a courier and his brother to the large compound in Abbottabad, north of Islamabad.
After months of top-secret planning, the operation came down to a simple command delivered by Obama on Friday — "it\’s a go."
The president and his top lieutenants gathered in the White House Situation Room to watch the dramatic operation remotely as it unfolded. Then came confirmation that bin Laden – code-named "Geronimo" – was now "EKIA:" Enemy Killed in Action.
The United States says bin Laden received Muslim rites before his body was "eased" into the Arabian Sea on Monday so no one could turn his grave into a shrine. Muslim leaders have condemned the sea burial.
With Pakistan\’s main Taliban faction vowing vengeance, the United States said it was closing its consulates in the cities of Lahore and Peshawar to the public until further notice.
Hundreds of curious Pakistanis meanwhile descended on the bullet-riddled villa that had hidden bin Laden from the world, some taking pictures and home videos of the battered compound.
Gathering outside to get a look at the now notorious high-walled villa, dozens of youths staged a demo mocking the United States, shouting "Osama is alive!"
While it is not yet certain who will replace bin Laden to lead Al-Qaeda, Panetta said that "whoever takes his place, he will be number one on our list."
Follow us on TWITTER @CapitalFM_Kenya