WASHINGTON — Osama bin Laden benefited from “some sort of support network” inside Pakistan, President Barack Obama said in a Sunday broadcast interview, but he added it is not clear whether government officials knew the terrorist leader was living inside their country when U.S. commandos killed him in a raid last weekend.
“We don’t know whether there might have been some people inside of government, people outside of government, and that’s something that we have to investigate and, more importantly, the Pakistani government has to investigate,” Obama said in an interview for CBS’ “60 Minutes.”
Bin Laden was living in a high-security compound in Abbottabad, a Pakistani city with a strong military presence, when U.S. Navy SEALs raided his compound in the middle of the night and killed him. The terrorist leader’s body was quickly buried at sea.
Polls have shown a boost in Obama’s support in the days since the raid, and his re-election campaign was eager to draw attention to the interview.
Jim Messina, the president’s campaign manager, emailed Obama supporters encouraging them to watch the program. The note included a link to a listing of all of the network’s local affiliates around the country – and another one requesting donations to the president’s re-election effort.
The president made his comments as top administration officials and lawmakers rebutted calls for a cut-off in American aid to Pakistan, an inconstant ally in the long struggle against terrorists.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said: “Everybody has to understand that even in the getting of Osama bin Laden, the Pakistanis were helpful. We have people on the ground in Pakistan because they allow us to have them.
“We actually worked with them on certain parts of the intelligence that helped to lead to him, and they have been extraordinarily cooperative and at some political cost to them in helping us to take out 16 of the top 20 al-Qaida leaders with a drone program that we have in the western part of the country.”
The senior Republican on the committee, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, said: “Pakistan is a critical factor in the war against terror, our war, the world’s war against it, simply because there are a lot of terrorists in Pakistan.”
Lugar said: “There are al-Qaida still. There are many Taliban. They go back and forth to Afghanistan.” He also noted that the nation possesses nuclear weapons, and said a cut-off in aid could weaken the United States’ ability to make sure they do not fall into the hands of terrorists.
Kerry strongly defended the president’s decision to order the raid, and the shooting death of bin Laden. The administration has offered shifting accounts of the events that unfolded in the 40 minutes the Navy SEALs were inside bin Laden’s compound, most recently saying the terrorist mastermind was unarmed but appeared to be reaching for a weapon when he was shot in the head and chest.
“I think those SEALs did exactly what they should have done. And we need to shut up and move on about, you know, the realities of what happened in that building,” Kerry said.
National security adviser Tom Donilon said, “I’ve not seen evidence that would tell us that the political, the military, or the intelligence leadership had foreknowledge of – of bin Laden” being in the country. He said the U.S. has asked the Pakistani authorities for access to people whom the SEALs left behind in the compound, including three of bin Laden’s wives. The U.S. also wants access to additional materials collected there, he said.
Officials have said the SEALs took voluminous computerized and paper records when they choppered out of bin Laden’s compound. Donilon likened the amount of information retrieved to the size of a small college library.
Donilon also sidestepped when asked if waterboarding and other so-called enhanced interrogation of detainees had produced information that led to the successful raid against bin Laden’s compound. “No single piece of intelligence led to this,” he said.