Before the war fever grows towards Pakistan for “sheltering” bin Laden, I want to add a speculation of my own for further investigation. Why was bin Laden’s fortress-compound so lightly guarded, given his reputation as a fierce warrior determined to bring down everything around him if captured?
There was some security, but not much, according to accounts so far. There was a “firefight”, we are told, but it was brief. According to the quasi-official New York Times [May 2], 79 American commandos hit the compound in an operation lasting 40-minutes, during which, in addition to having enough time to find, identify, and kill bin Laden, the raiders were also able to obtain a “treasure trove” of computer hard drives, discs, papers, and potential communications from high ranking members of Al Qaeda.
The Times reported that besides bin Laden, three men and an “unidentified” woman were killed, and two women wounded. One of the deceased was bin Laden’s son, Hamza. Another was a courier and his brother. Bin Laden was found in a third floor living quarters and, according to the top U.S. counter-terrorism official, whether he resisted with a weapon or not is unclear. What was emphasized was that bin Laden was “killed by U.S. bullets,” with a shot to the head. A wife of bin Laden was alive to identify his body. Nine children, ages two to 12 years old, were turned over to Pakistani authorities.
The compound, in other words, was not exactly Hitler’s bunker, nothing like a military stronghold at all. Why wasn’t there a major self-defense unit? Why wasn’t an Al Qaeda cadre hidden in the neighborhood ready to protect their leader? Why weren’t there escape tunnels under the compound?
It’s preposterous to believe that the U.S. unit took bin Laden “by surprise,” as if his security apparatus retired every evening at midnight, or went out strolling in the “quiet, affluent area,” said by one Pakistani to be “the closest you can be to Britain.”
What then explains the lack of any serious defense for the world’s most wanted man?
We may never know, but one scenario leaps out of the evidence at hand: Osama bin Laden had gone to ground and was operationally de-activated except for sporadic communications. He was a symbol, detached from Al Qaeda and the insurgencies around him. He simply became too hot.
Apparently, there was no Internet service at the compound, so online meetings with other Al Qaeda leaders or cadre were difficult or impossible. A courier was bin Laden's slow mode of communication, not Skype.
Perhaps this suggests a different role by Pakistan. What were they to do? They could not hand bin Laden over to the Americans. They could not arrest him, jail him, try him, convict him. They could not or would not kill him. But they could shelter him in exchange for an unknown agreement on the parameters of his behavior. They could offer him a life in semi-retirement, perhaps with dialysis treatment. If so, the rent bin Laden paid must have been significant. This might have been the most pragmatic arrangement at which the Pakistani military could arrive.
Then, last July, the Americans found the trail of the courier and, shortly after, the compound was targeted. This may be the back story of the growing antagonism between the U.S. and Pakistani governments, militaries and spy agencies, even the recent blow-up over the CIA contractor Raymond Davis, arrested and finally released after killing two Pakistani nationals in March. President Obama lied about Davis’ CIA affiliations and American diplomats put on enormous pressure before Davis was released. Davis was investigating Pakistani militants in a top-secret operation, which could mean he was on the trail of bin Laden.
In this imagined scenario, the Americans became certain that bin Laden was hidden in the compound, and possibly made Pakistan an offer it could not refuse. We know you have bin Laden under protective custody, they might have said, and now you must give him up or face the consequences. It remains to be investigated further, but how could it be accidental that the Pakistani military didn’t begin “scrambling their forces,” according to the Times, until the very time the Americans had finished the job, packed up the body, and turned over the women and children to Pakistani soldiers who were conveniently present?