ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan on Tuesday denied any prior knowledge of the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden, but said it had been sharing information about the targeted compound with the CIA since 2009.
Pakistan has faced enormous international scrutiny since bin Laden was shot dead by U.S. Special Forces in an attack on a sprawling compound near a military academy in the northwestern town of Abbottabad early on Monday.
While Islamabad hailed the killing of bin Laden as an important milestone in the fight against terrorism, the foreign ministry said Pakistan had expressed “deep concerns” that the operation was carried out without informing it in advance.
“Neither any base nor facility inside Pakistan was used by the U.S. forces, nor the Pakistan Army provided any operational or logistic assistance to these operations conducted by the U.S. forces,” the ministry said in a lengthy statement.
“This event of unauthorised unilateral action cannot be taken as a rule,” it added.
According to the statement, U.S. helicopters entered Pakistani airspace by making use of “blind spots” in the radar coverage caused by the hilly terrain surrounding Abbottabad.
The foreign ministry said the Pakistani air force scrambled its jets within minutes of being informed of the U.S. operation but there was no engagement with the U.S. forces as they had already left Pakistani airspace.
It said Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency had been sharing information about the compound with the CIA and other friendly intelligence agencies since 2009 and had continued to do so until mid-April.
“It is important to highlight that taking advantage of much superior and technological assets, CIA exploited the intelligence leads given by us to identify and reach Osama bin Laden.”
Pakistan is a crucial U.S. ally but Western leaders had long been concerned about Islamist militants from al Qaeda, the Taliban and other groups using safe havens and training camps in Pakistan’s remote and largely lawless northwest.
For years, Pakistan had said it did not know bin Laden’s whereabouts, vowing that if Washington had actionable intelligence, its military and security agencies would act.
The revelation that bin Laden had been holed up in a compound in a military garrison town, possibly for years, caused huge embarrassment for Pakistani military and intelligence, prompting many U.S. Lawmakers to demand a review of the billions of dollars in aid Washington gives to nuclear-armed Pakistan.
Pakistan’s president denied suggestions that his government may have sheltered bin Laden and the foreign ministry dismissed criticism of Pakistan’s military and intelligence services, saying their role was vital in fighting al Qaeda and its allies.
“Most of the successes achieved by the U.S. and some other friendly countries have been the result of effective intelligence cooperation and extremely useful military support by Pakistan.”
The statement said family members of bin Laden living in the compound were in Pakistani custody and would be handed over to their countries of origin.
Reporting by Zeeshan Haider, Chris Allbritton and Augustine Anthony, editing by Miral Fahmy