Report: U.S. had agreement with Pakistani government since 2001 that we could go in to get Bin Laden

Not surprising — once you remember that the U.S. always expected to find Bin Laden in Waziristan. We’ve been bombing the tribal areas for years with Pakistan’s semi-consent; if we spotted Osama in a cave in the mountains there, a few miles past the Afghan border, it’d be no great shakes to send in the SEALs to grab him and yank him out. The question, assuming that an agreement like this really did exist and that both Obama and Gen. Kayani knew about it and resolved to abide by it, is whether anyone thought it would/could mean U.S. boots on the ground an hour outside Islamabad.

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.

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

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.”

If the Guardian’s right then Pakistani objections after the raid are just a smokescreen to hide the agreement. Isn’t it just as likely, though, that the idea of a longstanding agreement is itself a smokescreen that’s been invented to hide Pakistan’s complicity in sheltering Bin Laden? The Guardian does quote a former senior U.S. counterterror official as saying that Bush and Musharraf made a deal about U.S. troops entering Pakistan to grab OBL after 9/11, but that may have been a short-term understanding during the hottest phase of the war on terror in the months following the invasion of Afghanistan. We figured we’d catch him quickly but maybe not before he crossed the border, so we wanted permission to follow him over and grab him in the mountains. Surely no one thought we had carte blanche to land anywhere in Pakistan, particularly a military town as far-flung as Abbottabad, to get our man.

The problem here, as always, is that the phrase “Pakistani government” is essentially meaningless. Almost no one, possibly including the White House, knows for sure how far up the state’s complicity with terrorist outfits like AQ and Lashkar e-Taiba goes. Presumably not all the way up — Pakistan has, in fact, lost thousands of troops to battles with jihadists, including in Waziristan — but it must go awfully high for Osama to spend five years living just a thousand yards from the national military academy with apparently little fear of being caught. Stephen Hayes and Tom Joscelyn speculate that the CIA might have been monitoring conversations between top Pakistani officials in real time while the Bin Laden raid played out to try to get a sense of who knew what. If they’re right, that might end up being the biggest intelligence windfall of the operation, notwithstanding that trove of computer data the SEALs grabbed from the compound.

Here’s Pakistan’s prime minister addressing parliament this morning and expressing his outrageous outrage that U.S. troops would violate the nation’s territorial sovereignty yadda yadda yadda. If we do it again, he warns, “Pakistan reserves the right to retaliate with full force.” As a gloss on that, read the whole Guardian piece linked up top; this is the same guy who told U.S. counterterror officials a few years ago that he flatly didn’t care if we used drone strikes in Pakistani territory as long as we got the right people.