ABBOTTABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan criticized the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden as an “unauthorized unilateral action,” laying bare the strains the operation has put on an already rocky alliance.
U.S. legislators along with the leaders of Britain and France questioned how the Pakistani government could not have known the al-Qaida leader was living in a garrison town less than a two-hour drive from the capital and had apparently lived there for years.
“I find it hard to believe that the presence of a person or individual such as bin Laden in a large compound in a relatively small town ... could go completely unnoticed,” French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told reporters in Paris.
British Prime Minister David Cameron also demanded that Pakistani leaders explain how bin Laden had lived undetected in Abbottabad. But in a nod to the complexities of dealing with a nuclear-armed, unstable country that is crucial to success in the war in Afghanistan, Cameron said having “a massive row” with Islamabad over the issue would not be in Britain’s interest.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday that the U.S. is committed to cooperating with Pakistan.
“We don’t know who if anybody in the government was aware that bin Laden or a high-value target was living in the compound. It’s logical to assume he had a supporting network. What constituted that network remains to be seen,” Carney said.
“It’s a big country and a big government and we have to be very focused and careful about how we do this because it is an important relationship.”
A day after U.S. commandos killed the al-Qaida leader after a 10-year manhunt, new details emerged Tuesday from Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency and bin Laden’s neighbors in Abbottabad.
Residents said they sensed something was odd about the walled three-story house, even though bin Laden and his family rarely ventured outside and most neighbors were not aware that foreigners were living there.
“That house was obviously a suspicious one,” said Jahangir Khan, who was buying a newspaper in Abbottabad. “Either it was a complete failure of our intelligence agencies or they were involved in this affair.”
Neighbors said two men would routinely emerge from the compound to run errands or occasionally attend a neighborhood gathering, such as a funeral. Both men were tall, fair skinned and bearded.
“People were skeptical in this neighborhood about this place and these guys,” said Mashood Khan, a 45-year-old farmer. “They used to gossip, say they were smugglers or drug dealers. People would complain that even with such a big house they didn’t invite the poor or distribute charity.”
U.S. officials have suggested Pakistani officials may have known where bin Laden was living and members of Congress have seized on those suspicions to call for the U.S. to consider cutting billions of aid to Pakistan if it turns out to be true.
Western officials have long regarded Pakistani security forces with suspicion, especially when it comes to links with militants fighting in Afghanistan. Last year, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton publicly said she suspected that some members of Pakistan’s government knew where bin Laden was hiding.
However, within Pakistan criticism has been focused on the U.S. breaching the country’s sovereignty. The Obama administration has said it did not inform the Pakistanis in advance of the operation against bin Laden, for fear they would tip off the targets.
A strongly worded Pakistani government statement warned the U.S. not to launch similar operations in the future. It rejected suggestions that officials knew where bin Laden was.
Still, there were other revelations that pointed to prior knowledge that the compound was linked to al-Qaida.
Pakistani intelligence agencies hunting for a top al-Qaida operative raided the house in 2003, according to a senior officer, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with the spy agency’s policy.
The house was just being built at the time of the raid by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, and Abu Faraj al-Libi, al-Qaida’s No. 3, was not there, said the officer.