Karachi: Prevarication by the Pakistani Government cost America the chance to kill Osama Bin Laden in an airstrike near the Afghan border two years ago, the Sunday Telegraph has said.
A CIA lead that the Al Qaida leader was hiding in a remote province was squandered because the Pakistani Government delayed giving permission for the attack on its soil, according to a senior Western diplomat.
By the time US officials got the go-ahead, Bin Laden had left the suspected hideout in Zhob, in the Balochistan province of south-west Pakistan.
The near-miss was cited by the diplomat as the reason why America chose not to consult Islamabad before the US missile strike in Pakistan's Bajaur region two weeks ago.
The January 13 attack, prompted by a tip that Bin Laden's deputy, Ayman Al Zawahiri, was hiding in a local village, killed 13 civilians.
Speaking of the Zhob attack, the diplomat said: "For unknown reasons, Pakistani officials delayed in giving permission ... which ultimately gave these militants time to move to an unknown location."
According to his account, which was backed by sources within Pakistani intelligence, the CIA picked up electronic traffic suggesting that Bin Laden and his bodyguards had sought temporary shelter in Zhob, which is dominated by Pathan and Baloch tribesmen sympathetic to Al Qaida and the Taliban.
Fearing that a commando raid would cause massive casualties to both sides, with no guarantee of success, the US decided to launch a strike by laser-guided missiles, fired from Predator drones.
The reason for the delay is not clear. While Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has vowed to eliminate terrorists operating within his country, elements within Pakistan's ISI intelligence service may have sought to protect Bin Laden.
If he was in Zhob at the time it would have been the first known occasion that he had been firmly in America's sights since his escape from Tora Bora in Afghanistan, where he slipped through a cordon of US troops in 2001.
Musharraf last week described the strike against Al Zawahiri as a "violation" although he said other Al Qaida figures had died in the raid.
Al Zawahiri is thought to have cancelled his visit, possibly after spotting CIA drones in the area.