Tuesday, March 14, 2017

How Ambassador Haqqani’s Confession Validates Seymour Hersh’s Account of Bin Laden’s Killing?

Husain Haqqani, Kerry and Zardari.
In his March 10 article [1] for the Washington Post, Pakistan’s ambassador to the US at the time of Osama Bin Laden’s execution, Husain Haqqani, has confessed to his role in facilitating the assassination of Bin Laden in May 2011. Haqqani identified the then-president Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani as his “civilian leaders”, and revealed, “In November 2011, I was forced to resign as ambassador after Pakistan’s military-intelligence apparatus gained the upper hand in the country’s perennial power struggle. Among the security establishment’s grievances against me was the charge that I had facilitated the presence of large numbers of CIA operatives who helped track down bin Laden without the knowledge of Pakistan’s army — even though I had acted under the authorization of Pakistan’s elected civilian leaders.”

Haqqani wrote: “The relationships I forged with members of Obama’s campaign team also led to closer cooperation between Pakistan and the United States in fighting terrorism over the three and a half  years I served as ambassador. These connections eventually enabled the United States to discover and eliminate bin Laden without depending on Pakistan’s intelligence service or military, which were suspected of sympathy toward Islamist militants.”

The former ambassador said, “Friends I made from the Obama campaign were able to ask, three years later, as National Security Council officials, for help in stationing U.S. Special Operations and intelligence personnel on the ground in Pakistan. I brought the request directly to Pakistan’s civilian leaders, who approved. Although the United States kept us officially out of the loop about the operation, these locally stationed Americans proved invaluable when Obama decided to send in Navy SEAL Team 6 without notifying Pakistan.”

This confessional statement by Ambassador Haqqani lends further credence to Seymour Hersh’s account of the assassination of Bin Laden in his book and article, The Killing of Osama Bin Laden [2]. According to Hersh, the initial, tentative plan of the Obama Administration regarding the disclosure of the execution of Osama bin Laden to the press was that he had been killed in a drone strike in the Hindu Kush mountains on the Afghan side of the border. But things didn’t go as planned during the operation as a Black Hawk helicopter crashed in Osama Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound and the whole town now knew that an operation is underway.

Therefore, the initial plan was abandoned and the Obama Administration had to go public within hours of the operation with a hurriedly cooked up story. This fact explains so many contradictions and discrepancies in the official account of the story, the biggest being that the United States Navy Seals conducted a raid deep inside Pakistani territory on a garrison town without the permission of Pakistani authorities.

Moreover, according to a May 2015 AFP report [3], Pakistan’s military sources had confirmed that there was a Pakistani defector who had met several times with Jonathan Bank, the CIA’s then-station chief in Islamabad, as a consequence of which the Pakistani intelligence disclosed Bank’s name to local newspapers and he had to leave Pakistan in a hurry in December 2010 because his cover was blown.

Seymour Hersh has posited in his investigative report on the Bin Laden operation in Abbottabad that the Saudi royal family had asked Pakistan as a favor to keep Bin Laden under protective custody, because he was a scion of a powerful Saudi-Yemeni Bin Laden Group and it was simply inconceivable for the Saudis to hand him over to the US.

Additionally, it should be kept in mind that the Pakistani military and Saudi Arabia have very deep and institutionalized links: thousands of Pakistani retired and serving army officers work on deputations in the Gulf States; furthermore, during the ‘80s, when Saudi Arabia lacked an efficient intelligence set-up, the Pakistani Inter-services Intelligence (ISI) virtually played the role of Saudi Arabia’s foreign intelligence service.

But once the Pakistani walk-in colonel, as stated in the aforementioned AFP report, had told then-CIA station chief in Islamabad, Jonathan Bank, that a high-value al Qaeda leader had been hiding in an ISI’s safe house in Abbottabad, right next to the Pakistan’s Military Academy, and after that when the CIA obtained further proof in the form of Bin Laden’s DNA through the fake vaccination program carried out by Dr. Shakil Afridi, then it was no longer possible for Pakistan’s security establishment to deny the whereabouts of Bin Laden.

In his book, Seymour Hersh has already postulated various theories that why it was not possible for Pakistan’s military authorities to simply hand Bin Laden over to the US. Here, let me only add that in May 2011, Pakistan had a liberal and US-friendly Pakistan People’s Party’s government in power. And as Ambassador Haqqani has pointed out in his article that the then-army chief, Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, and the ISI head, Shuja Pasha, were complicit in harboring Bin Laden, thus it cannot be ruled out that Pakistan’s military authorities might still have had strong objections to the US Navy Seals carrying out a raid in the garrison town of Abbottabad.

But Pakistan’s civilian administration under the former President Asif Ali Zardari must have persuaded the army chief and the ISI head to order the Pakistan Air Force and the Air Defense Corps to stand down during the operation. Ambassador Haqqani’s role in this saga ruffled the feathers of Pakistan’s security establishment to an extent that Husain Haqqani was later implicated in a criminal case regarding his memo to Admiral Mike Mullen and eventually Ambassador Haqqani had to resign in November 2011, just six months after the Operation Neptune Spear.

Moreover, Greg Miller of the Washington Post posited in his last year’s May 5 report [4] that Mark Kelton, the CIA station chief in Islamabad at the time of Bin Laden’s execution in Abbottabad, was poisoned by the ISI. The only purpose of this leak, five years after the operation, seems to be to discredit Seymour Hersh’s account in which he has proven beyond doubt that Pakistan’s government fully cooperated with the US during the operation. It is not a coincidence that this news report was released only within a month of the publication of Seymour Hersh’s book: The Killing of Osama bin Laden.

It should be remembered here that Mark Kelton succeeded Jonathan Bank in January 2011, after the latter’s name was made public by the ISI due to Bank’s “suspicious activities.” Hersh has mentioned in his report that the Pakistani walk-in colonel had met Jonathan Bank and had told the latter that Bin Laden was hiding in a compound in Abbottabad under the protective custody of the ISI. But in order to be sure, the US needed further proof, that’s why they arranged the fake vaccination program run by Dr. Shakil Afridi to obtain Bin Laden’s DNA samples.

The original deal between the Obama and Zardari administrations was that the story would be made public a week after the operation, as mentioned by Hersh in his report, that Bin Laden had been killed/captured in the Hindu Kush mountains on the Afghan side of the border. The crashed Black Hawk in Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound, however, made that impossible.

The Obama Administration had to improvise within hours of the operation with a hurriedly cooked up story, and they tried to gain maximum political mileage out of the incident in order to secure a second term for Obama in the US presidential elections of 2012. This fact explains so many contradictions and loopholes in the official version of the story, as I have already mentioned.

Although Seymour Hersh has claimed in his version of the story that the Pakistani military authorities were also on-board months before the operation, let me clarify, however, that according to the inside sources of Pakistan’s security establishment, only the Pakistani civilian administration under the Zardari-led and the US-friendly Pakistan People’s Party administration was on-board; and the military authorities, who were instrumental in harboring Bin Laden and his family for five years, were intimated only at the eleventh hour.

Moreover, even though Ambassador Haqqani has maintained in his confessional statement that the US “officially kept us out of the loop about the operation,” but in the same sentence, he further states, “the locally stationed CIA operatives [who were issued visas by the Zardari Administration] proved invaluable when Obama decided to send in Navy SEAL Team 6 without notifying Pakistan.” Thus, this “official” denial can only be construed as nothing more than an excuse for the sake of plausible deniability.