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US feared Pak might 'alert' Osama about raid: CIA

Pakistani officials were kept deliberately out of loop by the US in its operation to get Osama bin Laden as it feared they might "alert" the targets and "jeopardise" the mission, CIA Director Leon Panetta said today.

world Updated: May 03, 2011 22:50 IST

Pakistani officials were kept deliberately out of loop by the US in its operation to get Osama bin Laden as it feared they might "alert" the targets and "jeopardise" the mission, CIA Director Leon Panetta said today.

In a clear statement indicating that the US did not trust Pakistan, Panetta told TIME magazine in an interview that the CIA had ruled out participating with the American ally.

Bin Laden was taken out in a secret operation in Abbottabad city yesterday by US special forces who flew in from Afghanistan and Pakistan was told about it only when they had left Pakistani airspace.

"It was decided (during the planning) that any effort to work with the Pakistanis could jeopardise the mission. They might alert the targets," Panetta said.

He said the US had also considered using B-2 bombers for a high-altitude bombing raid or launching a "direct shot" with cruise missiles but these options were ruled out because of the possibility of "too much collateral".

Panetta's hard hitting statement comes as Pakistan is facing many uncomfortable questions over the killing of bin Laden in the heart of Pakistan, in a garrison city.

Panetta said that months back, the US had considered expanding the assault to include coordination with other countries, notably Pakistan but the CIA ruled out participating with it early on.

US intelligence had but only "circumstantial evidence" of Osama's presence at the Abbottabad mansion, but Panetta told a crucial meeting with President Barack Obama and other top aides on Thursday that it was significant enough to act.

Though US satellites had not been able to photograph bin Laden or members of his family, based on his assessment of the credibility of the evidence, Panetta told the meeting that "put together" it was the "best evidence since (the 2001 battle of) Tora Bora (where bin Laden was last seen), and that then makes it clear that we have an obligation to act".

Before heading to meet Obama, Panetta last Tuesday held a meeting with his main counter-terrorism aides to take their opinion on the potential bin Laden mission, but his team did not turn up unanimous on the issue.

"What if you go down and you're in a firefight and the Pakistanis show up and start firing?" some were worried, according to Panetta.

Despite the fact that his aides were only 60 to 80 per cent confident of Osama's presence in the mansion, the CIA chief came to the conclusion that evidence was strong enough to make a move and present a case to the President, TIME said. "If I thought delaying this could in fact produce better intelligence, that would be one thing... but because of the nature of the security at the compound, we're probably at a point where we've got the best intelligence we can get," Panetta said he argued at the meeting in which Obama decided to go with the CIA chief's instinct.

Panetta said before this he had for weeks tried to get the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to try to get photographic confirmation of the bin Laden's presence.

Once he got a go ahead from Obama, Panetta instructed General William McRaven, head of the Joint Special Forces Command that the mission was "to go in there (and) get bin Laden, and if bin Laden isn't there, get the hell out!"

CIA officials, then a command centre out of a windowless seventh-floor conference room at Langley and the room had its share of tense moments, the magazine said.

"I kept asking Bill McRaven, 'OK, what the hell's this mean?," and when McRaven finally said they had ID'd "Geronimo," the mission code name for bin Laden, "All the air we were holding came out," Panetta said.

And when the helicopters left the compound 15 minutes later, the room broke into applause, the magazine said.

He said the US has recovered an "impressive amount" of material from bin Laden's compound, including computers and other electronics, Panetta says.

TIME said one of bin Laden's wives who survived the attack has informed that the family had been living at the compound since 2005.

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