White House rebuts claims by US journalist of Pakistan's role in raid that killed Osama bin Laden

A man passing by the demolished site in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden was killed, on May 1, 2015, the fourth anniversary of his death. The White House has flatly rejected claims that Pakistan was told in advance about the 2011 special o
A man passing by the demolished site in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden was killed, on May 1, 2015, the fourth anniversary of his death. The White House has flatly rejected claims that Pakistan was told in advance about the 2011 special operations raid that killed Bin Laden. -- PHOTO: EPA

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The White House on Monday flatly rejected claims that Pakistan was told in advance about a 2011 special operations raid that killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Veteran US journalist Seymour Hersh claimed in a British publication that Pakistan's security services not only knew about the raid, but had been holding bin Laden prisoner since 2006.

That account was rejected by the White House.

"This was a US operation through and through," said Edward Price, a White House National Security Council spokesman.

The notion that the operation which killed the September 11 attacks mastermind "was anything but a unilateral US mission is patently false," he said.

The raid on Abbottabad caused public outcry in Pakistan and strained already uneasy relations between Washington and Islamabad.

It was also seen as a hallmark achievement of Obama's first term.

"Knowledge of this operation was confined to a very small circle of senior US officials," insisted Price.

"The President decided early on not to inform any other government, including the Pakistani Government, which was not notified until after the raid had occurred."

Hersh, who rose to prominence by exposing atrocities during the Vietnam War, was writing in the London Review of Books.

In the bombshell article published on Sunday, he disputed much of the Obama administration's account of how bin Laden was discovered, killed, and buried. He disputed the claim that US intelligence services discovered the location where bin laden was hiding by tracking couriers to his home. He wrote that a senior Pakistani official had provided bin Laden's whereabouts to the CIA for part of a US$25 million (S$33 million) reward.

The Al-Qaeda leader was not hiding, as claimed by the White House, but was imprisoned by Pakistan's security services for five years, Hersh wrote.

He also questioned the administration's claim that Pakistan wasn't notified in advance of the raid, saying that senior Pakistani military officials - General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and General Ahmed Shuja Pasha - were aware of the mission.

The article prompted pushback from the White House and from journalists who rebutted his claims.

But Hersh brushed off the criticisms in an interview with The Huffington Post.

"If I worried about the reaction to what I write, I'd be frozen," he said.

Journalists "should be very skeptical of someone who says what goes against what every newspaper and magazine believed," he said.

"You're not doing your job if you say, 'Oh, it must be true."