Bin Laden wore cowboy hat ‘to avoid detection’: Pakistani report

Olivier Knox
Yahoo! News

Osama bin Laden "trusted in Allah for his protection" but made sure to wear a cowboy hat on his walks around his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, "to avoid detection from above." That's according to the blockbuster final report of a Pakistani commission that looked into the circumstances surrounding the May 2011 raid in which U.S. commandos killed the leader of al-Qaida. The report was obtained and published by Al-Jazeera English.

The so-called Abbottabad Commission comprised Pakistan's most senior supreme court judge, a retired inspector general of police, a retired army lieutenant general, and the director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad. Its task was to investigate how bin Laden managed to live quietly in that garrison town ("a kilometer in a straight line from the Pakistan Military Academy," the report notes) and how U.S. special operations forces were able to conduct the covert raid without interference from Pakistan government forces. Key question: Was Pakistan's government guilty of incompetence or complicity in each case?

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It's a fascinating read, capturing the would-need-two-upgrades-to-be-merely-tense relations between the U.S. and Pakistana country U.S. officials call crucial to the war on terrorism but which needs to do more to crack down on Islamist extremists.

The independent commission's assessment of Pakistan's government is brutal. Among its findings:

--"The whole episode of the US assassination mission of May 2, 2011 and the Pakistan government's response before, during and after appears in large part to be a story of complacency, ignorance, negligence, incompetence, irresponsibility and possibly worse at various levels inside and outside the government," the report says starting on page 333.

--Dismantling the operations of both the CIA and Islamist extremist networks on Pakistani soil must be an "urgent national priority" (page 331).

--Civilian casualties from American drone strikes must be judged "deliberate and criminal" (page 328).

--The CIA stopped notifying Pakistan's government of high-value extremist targets on its territory in 2005 (page 325).

--It calls the bin Laden raid "illegal" and a symptom of America's "contemptuous disregard for Pakistan's sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity in the arrogant certainty of its unmatched military might" (page 305).

--But a more effective Pakistan government could have spared its people their "avoidable humiliation" (page 305).

--How did Pakistan's intelligence services miss the presence of the world's most wanted fugitive? "It was probably more a case of negligence, inefficiency and incompetence rather than complicity" (page 299).

Repeated entries note speculation that Pakistan abetted the raid with at least a wink-and-nod acceptance, but the commission found no evidence for that claim. On page 292, the report notes that Pakistan's air defense radars, which might have picked up the Navy SEAL team helicopters, were in "rest" mode because it was "not economical" to have them on constantly.

But among the most interesting nuggets in the report are the descriptions, based on interviews with bin Laden relatives living with him at the compound, of his life in hiding.

Bin Laden was "not fond of possessions" and moved into the house with just three summer outfits and three winter outfits. He also had a black jacket and two sweaters, the report said. Why didn't bin Laden have tougher protection? He "trusted in Allah for his protection" and had just two bodyguards.

Still, "when OBL moved about the Compound he wore a cowboy hat to avoid detection from above," the report said on page 41. When he felt unwell, he relied on "traditional Arab medicine." But whenever bin Laden "felt sluggish he would take some chocolate with an apple.”

He "did not discuss political matters with his wives." But Bin Laden "personally saw to the religious education of his grandchildren and supervised their play time, which included cultivating vegetable plots with simple prizes for best performances."

The witnesses said that the Americans made off with a hard disc that belonged to bin Ladenbut also with what the report calls 20 gold “biscuits” and two gold lockets with emeralds (page 40).

“They also took a purse that contained the will of Osama bin Laden,” the report says.

One of bin Laden's wives “had previously read the will but did not wish to divulge the details. She said it was not political and pertained only to personal and family related matters. Other reports suggested that the will said his children should not seek the leadership of Al-Qaida.”