Here's a little more info that may help us piece together how American special operations forces pulled off the daring May 1 raid that killed Osama bin Laden deep inside Pakistani territory.
It points to the possibility that U.S. forces actually did pull off the mission without Pakistani knowledge.
First, the UK's Guardian newspaper is reporting that Pakistan and the United States had a special agreement going back 10 years that if the U.S. ever discovered bin Laden inside Pakistan, it could take him out unilaterally. Pakistan would look the other way during the raid and then complain loudly about its sovereignty being violated afterwards. This actually makes a lot of sense and is very similar to Islamabad's policy toward CIA drone strikes in the tribal areas; it save the Pakistanis some (key word being some) political face while helping out the U.S., one of it's biggest suppliers of aid.
From the Guardian:
The deal was struck between the military leader General Pervez Musharraf and President George Bush after Bin Laden escaped US forces in the mountains of Tora Bora in late 2001, according to serving and retired Pakistani and US officials.Update: Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is denying that such a deal ever existed.
Under its terms, Pakistan would allow US forces to conduct a unilateral raid inside Pakistan in search of Bin Laden, his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the al-Qaida No3. Afterwards, both sides agreed, Pakistan would vociferously protest the incursion.
...Under the terms of the secret deal, while Pakistanis may not have been informed of the assault, they had agreed to it in principle.
A senior Pakistani official said it had been struck under Musharraf and renewed by the army during the "transition to democracy" – a six-month period from February 2008 when Musharraf was still president but a civilian government had been elected.
Referring to the assault on Bin Laden's Abbottabad compound, the official added: "As far as our American friends are concerned, they have just implemented the agreement."
The former US official said the Pakistani protests of the past week were the "public face" of the deal. "We knew they would deny this stuff."
Meanwhile, the execution of the raid was done in a manner that kept the Pakistani's completely in the dark about it. Stealth choppers were used along with what was probably some serious radar jamming. Let's look at the tech that may have been used to allow nearly 100 commandos do conduct a 40-minute raid in a military town little more than 30 miles outside the Pakistani capitol. (Keep in mind Abbottabad is well within Pakistan's air defence intercept zone.)
So, at least two mystery stealth choppers were used to ferry the initial assault team of Navy SEALs into the site, (if they had to use secret helos for the SEALs why wouldn't the same be true for their backup?). At the same time there was a mystery UAV providing ISR support to the operation. While government officials said it was a Predator drone early on, i'm not so sure. Again, this was a secret op inside Pakistan's air defense intercept zone. It would make more sense that the Air Force's stealthy RQ-170 Sentinel, which operates out of neighboring Afghanistan, was actually the UAV supporting the raid. This bird could have done everything from provide real time imagery of the raid site to the SEALs and mission planners to help jam Pakistan's air defense systems.
New reports are emerging from the Pakistani press that Pakistani radar picked up a flight of six aircraft flying along the Afghan-Pakistan border during the raid. Apparently, on AWACS plane and five F/A-18s were tracked. This makes even more sense, the AWACS could have monitored any activity by Pakistani fighters while the F/A-18s could have been on standby to intercept any Pakistani jets that were threatening the U.S. helos. The Hornets may have even been the electronic warfare variant known as the EA-18G Growler, providing yet another layer of electronic warfare support to the assault team if need be. The Growler can jam both enemy radars and communications from stand-off distances.
From the Hindustan Times:
The probe report said the movement of half-a-dozen aircraft was noticed near the Jalalabad border at 11pm.And just in case the agreement and all that stealth-tech wasn't enough to guarantee the success of the mission, the strike force was apparently prepared to fight its way out of Pakistan, according to this New York Times article. Keep in mind that Pakistani Army and Air Force units apparently did respond to the raid but they were too late to catch the Americans on the ground or in the air.
A US AWACS and five F-18 jets of the US "flew near the Pakistani border, but did not cross into the airspace of Pakistan", said the report.
A special investigation committee has been formed to look into the violation of its airspace by US helicopters which quietly entered the country and left after killing Osama.
The investigators will see how the forces were not aware about the presence of foreign helicopters.
The Committee will also try to find out whether the US aircraft, detected by the radars, were meant to divert the attention of Pakistani forces.
All of this paints a picture of a mission that really was pulled off without knowledge of the Pakistani military, thus giving the government plausible deniability.
Still, questions remain as to how much Pakistan knew of the raid, especially if reports saying that the assault helos were actually flying out of a Pakistani airbase are true.