Photo: Aslam Jadoon /EPA 2011 Abbottabad, between the Piffers and the Balochis

The last days of Osama bin Laden 1: Abbottabad

In Asia, Travel, Books, The rest, Pakistan by tony2 Comments

Featured Photo: Aslam Jadoon /EPA 2011 Abbottabad, between the Piffers and the Balochis

ORT_Logo   Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony,  28 July 2015

This post somehow got erased. It is not a new post in 2018!

Part 1 merely sets the stage and tries to answer the question posed by newspapers at the time and recently: Whether Osama bin Laden was ‘hidden in plain sight’ or whether elements of the Pakistan military knew he was there?

The other two posts are The Last Days of Osama bin Laden 2: 9/11 and The Last Days of Osama bin Laden 3: The Killing.

The first examines the events leading up to 9/11 and then the consequences with the development of al-Zarqawi and ISI in Iraq — a far more brutal and larger threat than the original Al Qaeda ever was. The second examines the killing itself, inconsistencies in the official US version and alternative versions of what might have taken place.

In 2021, I did an Update on the Killing of Osama bin Laden, which explored the political events in the world in the five years since 2015 when I wrote the articles. Five years is a long time in current world history!

In 2021, I also wrote a companion article to this article on the non-political events in the world over the same period called The Last Five Years Global Threats 2021.

A visit to Abbottabad

Denise and I took a year off in 1995 to travel to Thailand, Pakistan, India and Burma. The primary purpose was to travel up the Karakorum Highway (KKH) to China and back. It was one of those must do dreams I’d had and though the travelling was hard, we did it and spent a great deal more time on the KKH than most people do.

Photo: Tony 1995, Abbottabad Home of the Piffers 1849

Photo: Tony 1995, Abbottabad Home of the Piffers 1849

Our visit to Abbottabad was not one of the highlights of our trip, but given the later historical significance, it is worth revisiting. We’d had a lovely few days in beautiful Taxila with its wonderful museum, following an adrenalin-filled and educative few days in Lahore.

I took many good photographs on the trip, but my two acceptable ones of Abbottabad are unimpressive.

Our first impressions of Pakistan were that the people we were meeting — the middle classes and below were amazingly hospitable and kind, but there were also scary aspects to this as the trip progressed. There was also some heavy staring and boorish behaviour in Lahore, but it was countered by genuine concern and a desire to help from others.

In Lahore most travellers huddled in the Salvation Army compound and it was full. We didn’t see the book of xenophobia at the Salvation Army, full of complaints about Lahore and Pakistan, which would not have been good for us at this stage. As an honorary, respectable, supposedly married couple we were accepted at the YWCA hostel girl’s school. The girls were fiery and sexy. They made bold, steamy glances from under kohled eyes, at the new but albeit middle-aged western male. We were shown to a room up some rickety stairs on the roof of the main building. It looked as if it hadn’t been used for years. Our initial impression wasn’t favourable but we grew to like it because it was big and airy and private.

There was a large cupboard, which fortunately I, being the paranoid one, had chained our packs into. When we came back that evening our room had been broken into through a tiny fanlight window, which rotated about its centre and was open. I suspected that one of the girls had bribed a small boy from the bazaar to break in after dark. Denise lost some gold Gucci sunglasses that she’d bought at MBK in Bangkok for $10, unfortunately in her good glasses case. The lenses were so bad you could barely see through them. Some moderately expensive face cream was also stolen. So, there was no real harm done, considering what we could have lost — all our cash, traveller’s cheques and passports.

Our day had been so long and relatively traumatic that we didn’t tell our hosts until morning. The response was to get the handyman to nail the window up with massive four-inch nails.

Photo: Tony 1995, Shalimar Gardens, Lahore

Photo: Tony 1995, Shalimar Gardens, Lahore


1995 Travel Journal Excerpts

Sunday 7 May, 1995 Day 75

Today was to be by bus to Abbottabad. Captain James Abbott founded Abottobad in 1853. His other most notable achievement was that he was despatched from Afghanistan to Khiva in 1839 to assure the Khan of Britain’s wish for a friendly relationship, as counter to Russian advances in Central Asia. He was unaware when he reached Kiva of the new low in Anglo-Russian relations, nor of the catastrophe that had befallen the Russian expedition ostensibly trying to free slaves, according to Peter Hopkirk (see further information below). Nevertheless, he did have trouble convincing the Khan of his mission, but judging by what happened to other English officers in future during the Great Game period, he was very lucky. He eventually made his way to Moscow and back to England.

We first took a bus outside the Taxila Youth Hostel knowing it was the secondary and longer route. What we didn’t know was that one third of the way along they were building a bridge and that we had to ford a raging stream across slippery rocks. It was fun in the American sense, meaning bloody awful at the time and an adventure later. The bus conductor carried Denise’s pack across. My feet were bruised and frozen!


Photo: Tony 1995, Harvesting wheat Taxila

Photo: Tony 1995, Harvesting wheat Taxila


To this point we’d travelled on the roof of the bus for the first time. It was cool (air-conditioned) and gave a great view, but it was also exceedingly bouncy and sunny. On the second bus we travelled inside and it was crowded, hot and sweaty. There was a throbbing heart with an arrow through it electrically lit in hot pink at the front. The outside of the bus was also wonderfully and garishly decorated like the trucks. Haripur on the main road was our destination. From Haripur to Abbottabad was a better road — the start of the Karakorum Highway (KKH). We travelled inside the bus with our packs on top for the first time and were a bit worried about them.

At Abbottabad we were staying at the Maharba Hotel (130 Rupees) in the Bazaar. It was a bit of a flea-pit with not great security but OK, and the food was good. Very good. We have hit tasty well-cooked food finally for the first time in Pakistan. Lunch was 74 R and dinner only 40 R for excellent food.

The Maharba is very central. We’ve also been treated well in the Abbottabad bazaar: my watchstrap was re-glued for free and Denise was given a soft glasses case (10 R) to replace the one stolen for free too.

We talked to the Kaghan Forestry Project Director and a German Forester. We may not be able to get to Naran as the snow has stayed late and there have been many avalanches. The huts on the lake that we wanted to book are out of the question. We’ll get more information at Balakot.


Photo: Tony 1995, Denise Taxila

Photo: Tony 1995, Denise Taxila


Monday 8 May, Day 76

At the Maharba we discovered two viewing holes drilled in the door. We covered them, but in the morning they were poked through and Denise had certainly been visible lying asleep. Harmless perhaps but it ‘pissed her off’ and coloured her view of the Maharba. Tonight we bought some stickers at the Variety Book Store: one Mickey Mouse with some lethal looking scissors and the other a black skull and cross-bones. We also hung a thick quilt drape across the door. Perhaps, the message had got through or the nosy guests had left because there were no new holes.

This morning at the bank we met an Australian whom I thought I recognised. I placed him. It was Peter whom Ansie and I had picked up hitch-hiking twenty years ago and had taken to Chobe Game Reserve in Botswana in the dying days of white Rhodesia. He’s a farmer now in Victoria.

Abottabad was a nice town for a brief visit. The bazaar was interesting and friendly. Outside the centre the town had a definite 19th century English aura, with church bells, military parades and marching bands.

The army cantonment presence was very real. There are big old houses, some decaying, like an Indian Hill Station, but unlike a hill station Abbottabad is still very alive as a town. We went back to the Forestry Department to try to book for Shogran. This was not possible but we met the German again, a couple more visiting Germans and an Australian woman Forester (social forestry). I got the strong impression from the German (5 years in Abbottabad) and from the Australian (a lone woman, her husband is working in Canada) that Abbottabad wasn’t such a nice place to live. One makes what one can.

Photo: Tony 1995, Abbottabad

Photo: Tony 1995, Abbottabad


We visited the ‘melancholy Christian cemetery’ mentioned in the Lonely Planet and looked at various Christian graves — young officers gored by wild boars. There were also an inordinate number of young men dead in one year without mentioned cause and we wondered whether there’d been an uprising or merely a savage outbreak of influenza. Like fools neither of us recorded the year and by now we’ve forgotten, so we’ll probably never know unless some erudite reader writes to tell us.

We went up Shimla Hill above the town in the late afternoon. It was very peaceful and to us exciting because we saw for the first time the mountains covered in snow that we had come so far to see. It is impossible to describe how the sight lifted our spirits. On the opposite hillside it said: Home of the Piffers 1849 in white. White signs in stone on steep hillsides we later found is a favourite Northern Areas pastime — the military and those celebrating the visits of the Aga Khan are the worst offenders, but even worse still are competing political slogans painted on rocks along every road.

The nickname the ‘Piffers’ refers to what was initially the Punjab Irregular Force but mostly known as the Punjab Frontier Force. Why Abbottabad is the home of the Piffers? I have no idea.

We also met an old man with a tear in his eye who’d walked the whole way up the steep hill. He wanted to communicate with us but we couldn’t understand a word.

As the sun was setting we began to walk down the mountain. A man was playing a flute classically and beautifully up on the ridge in that setting and in silhouette. It was beautiful.

I got cross with Denise because she wouldn’t come away and I didn’t want to get caught on an unknown hill footpath in the dark. What a bore I am!

We ate at Ali’s Food Centre. The food was terrible but we had coffee for the first time in Pakistan, which was good.

Tuesday 9 May, Day 77

Up at 5.45 am for a day of travel. We said goodbye to the Maharba without regret, although they’d been hospitable, helpful and had good food. Denise couldn’t forgive them for the peep show, and I couldn’t blame her. We caught a slow bus to Mansehra (5R, 2h)…

The Piffers

Finding out about the Piffers is quite difficult unless you are an expert in regimental histories, but I remember when growing up that the British and ‘native’ troops patrolling the Indian Frontier, on the edges of Afghanistan and in what are now the northern areas of Pakistan, were the stuff of legend. The British greatly admired the Pathans and other tribal groups they were pitted against. The Khyber Pass, South Waziristan, the Swat Valley, Gilgit and Chitral were the famous names of the Frontier and ‘The Great Game’ with Russia, the splendours of colonial Britain.

Michael Burt’s fictional accounts are an excellent introduction to the skirmishes of the Northwest Frontier in the late 19th and early twentieth centuries, though of course entirely from the British perspective. The film Northwest Frontier 1959 with Kenneth More and Lauren Bacall also shows a romanticised but wonderful fictional account of the frontier, produced before the British had finally realised that the days of The British Empire and colonialism were definitely over.


Photo: Tony 1995, The Indus Valley and the KKH from the Alai Valley Road

Photo: Tony 1995, The Indus Valley and the KKH from the Alai Valley Road


When I first went to India, Rukmini and all her friends were very anti-colonialism, but later when India celebrated 50 Years of Independence, I thought privately that perhaps India hadn’t done any better. And, quite often when I broached the topic carefully with Indian friends, at least some of them didn’t disagree. Niall Ferguson Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World Allen Lane 2003 (and an accompanying TV series) took on the task partly of analysing the pros and cons of the British Empire; he said, because his Scottish family benefitted over generations from the Empire in India. A significant part of the book is about India and his general conclusions are that Empire was both good and bad, but that he’d the favour the pros over the cons. Despite his reputation as a scholarly historian, he inevitably got a lot of flack and serious criticism for this. I read the book and I must admit that I was sceptical initially. I think my reaction was similar to Riku Sayuj in Goodreads (although I’ve been more cautious and changed his ‘most’ to many): ‘I so wanted to launch into an outraged invective against the temerity of the author — but found myself in reluctant agreement with [many] of the arguments.’

The Forward to Michael Burt’s Lean Brown Men 1940 (reprint 1946), a fictionalised series of stories about the nth Piffers is by Field-Marshall The Lord Birdwood, Deal Castle Kent. Birdwood, formerly Commander-in-Chief in India, himself was Colonel-Commandant of the 13th Frontier Force Rifles, a descendent of the great Piffer regiments of earlier days.

Birdwood says: ‘In 1846 was fought the battle of Sobraon, resulting in the complete overthrow and dispersion of the Sikh army and the prostration of the Punjab at the feet of the British Government.’

‘It was for the maintenance of order in the newly annexed territories… that the famous Punjab Frontier Force (or as it was originally, The Punjab Irregular Force) came into being.’ The PIF became the ‘Piffers’.

Birdwood recommends Burt because his fictionalised account gives a genuine flavour of the Piffers and the frontier, whereas most novels of the northwest frontier he thinks are sensationalised twaddle.

Photo: Tony 1995, Truck

Photo: Tony 1995, Truck on the Karakorum Highway

I also have a book by Major Donovan Jackson, India’s Army, 1940, also with a foreword by Lord Birdwood, which covers the Indian Army, specifically with respect to 1903 and 1922. The forces, which the Piffers were dispersed into, are difficult to unentangle. There were many frontier regiments in 1903 and even more in 1922, various Sikh regiments formed after the 1846 defeat above, Punjab regiments (including Coke’s Rifles) and certainly the 12th Frontier Force Regiment and the 13th Frontier Force rifles contained Piffers. The situation became more complicated after Independence, but the Piffer heritage remains.

Various references in addition to Jackson’s book are given below. The video of the Piffer’s Regimental Song is curious but worth viewing.

Under the Pakistan Army, Abbottabad certainly became the home of the Piffers and was vastly expanded by the ‘raising day’ of the 16th to 27th battalion of the Frontier Force Regiment in 1965 (war with India), the 28th and 29th in 1966, the 30th in 1969, 31st in 1970, 32nd to 43rd in 1971 (war with India) and more in 1983, 1988 and 1991 (all in Abbottabad, with 6 others raised elsewhere).

I don’t know the significance of the Piffers 1849 that we saw on the hillside in 1995, but suspect it was related to the raising of four regiments the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th Punjab Infantry in 1849. The better more recent photograph of Abbottabad (compared to my 1995 fuzzy version) shows it is also the home of the Baloch Regiment, as well. I won’t go into much detail, but the title refers to the province of Baluchistan. There was a long history under the British Army, as with the Piffers, and the Baloch Regiment was formed in 1956 by the amalgamation of three previously British infantry regiments: the 8th Punjab and Bahawalpur with the Baluch.

The leadership of the Pakistan Army has intervened in Pakistan politically. There have been coups, but the structure of the army and the esprit de corps is still much as the British left it (as indeed is the Indian Army). Military organisations are conservative and dwell on their history. The Pakistan Army dwells on its history with pride. ‘The Pakistani army [still] sees itself as family,’ … ‘Officers call soldiers their sons and all officers are “brothers” (Seymour Hersh). This is in contrast to the American or Australian army.

We’ve seen the border ceremony between the two countries at Wagah on the road from Lahore to Amritsar in the Punjab (only about 50 km). The Pakistani Rangers are more colourful and more ceremonial than their Indian confreres, but there is a military competitiveness on display.

It is called the beating retreat ceremony. One infantryman stands at attention on each side of the gate. As the sun sets, the iron gates at the border are opened and the two flags are lowered simultaneously. The flags are folded and the ceremony ends with a retreat that involves a brusque handshake between soldiers from either side, followed by the closing of the gates again. In October 2010, Major General Yaqub Ali Khan of the Pakistan Rangers decided that the aggressive aspect of the ceremonial theatrics should be toned down.

The death of Osama bin Laden

The moment I heard that Osama bin Laden had been killed in Abbottabad, my view was that people high up in the military must have known about it, not just the ISI (the notorious Pakistan Inter-services Intelligence Service). Even within the cantonment of Abbottabad certain high-ranking officers must have known.


Photo: Farooq Naeem /AFP/Getty 2 May 2011 Bin Laden compound

Photo: Farooq Naeem /AFP/Getty 2 May 2011 Bin Laden compound


It would have been a closely held secret, but various people would have known that something was going on and that the compound was off limits. I grew up on air-force bases. There would have been rumours (even if they were wildly inaccurate).

The fact that the compound was built from scratch and had an extra storey would have caused gossip. There is no way that a softly spoken, friendly Kuwaiti (bin Laden’s courier) — a foreigner — could have purchased real estate and built the compound in a military cantonment without support. [The supposed soft-spoken Kuwaiti, bin Laden’s courier, may not even have existed.] He may have been disinformation put forward by the Americans to cover their true source a Pakistani senior intelligence ‘walk-in’, as suggested by Seymour Hersh.

The press gradually began to announce that Abbottabad was a military base that ‘it was the equivalent of West Point as an officer training centre’ not to mention the Piffers and the Balochis. The Washington Post introduced the idea: ‘hiding in plain sight’ immediately, which the rest of the world’s media took up.

Regarding the raid, it would seem that the Americans were right tactically not to alert the Pakistanis. They wanted Osama bin Laden and they didn’t want him spirited away. The tactical risk was enormous, however. Memories of the debacle in Iran must have been omnipresent. President Obama in his first term was not known as a risk taker. Strategically, the issue was also murky and complex.

In the event, it was another blow to Pakistani pride: one of many, not quite in the same league as the the loss of East Pakistan (Bangladesh) in 1971.


Photo: Anjum Naveed /AP, 2 May 2011, Police, Soldiers near bin Laden compound

Photo: Anjum Naveed /AP, 2 May 2011, Police, Soldiers near bin Laden compound


Imran Khan said that Pakistan had been doubly humiliated (both by not being told and by hiding bin Laden because of the location), which perhaps the majority of Pakistanis felt too. Imran Khan also said that it was cold-blooded murder . Imran Khan is not an important leader in Pakistan, Pakistan’s real leaders were not game to articulate the charge of murder, nor were the rest of the world game to call the USA on this (more of which in Part 3).

The Pakistan Commission of enquiry into the Death of bin Laden

Al Jazeera leaked the Report of the Pakistan Commission to enquire into what happened in Abbottabad on 8 July 2013. The Pakistan government would have preferred to bury it. The Report, two years after the event, said that this was the greatest humiliation of Pakistan since 1971. It concluded that the USA had engaged in the equivalent of an act of War. The report was also scathing of the army and intelligence services. ‘To summarise, negligence and incompetence to a greater or lesser degree at almost all levels of government are clear,’ said the report, which was based on testimony from more than 200 witnesses, official documents and site visits.

The criticism of the army and intelligence services was noteworthy in a country where officials often steer clear of taking these powerful organisations to task.

Whether the commission acted in complete honesty or something less, it was still a brave report for Pakistan. It is also unlikely that any such commission would ever get close to the truth in any country. Humiliation was in everyone’s best interests, no matter how painful.

Nevertheless, the uncritical acceptance that no-one knew about bin Laden living in Abbottabad and the lack of in-depth analysis by the world media is interesting. Perhaps the media reaction to the death of Osama bin Laden is related to the 24-hour news cycle. We need to be bombarded again and again by mindless information.

Seymour Hersh

Seymour Hersh a senior and respected investigative journalist delivered a bombshell in May 2015 (which was supported by the equally experienced English journalist Carlotta Gall). He says: ‘The most blatant lie [by the Obama Administration] was that Pakistan’s two most senior military leaders — General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, chief of the army staff, and General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, director general of the ISI — were never informed of the US mission.’

Photo: Tony 1995, Locals near Besham

Photo: Tony 1995, Locals near Besham

The story Seymour Hersh presents reads like a spy fiction novel. It is so incredibly detailed about the raid on Abbottabad, which resulted in bin Laden’s death that it is hard to disbelieve. Carlotta Gall who should know says it has the ring of truth. The Obama Administration immediately set out to try to discredit it.

Nevertheless, although the story is compelling the key evidence that Kayani and Pasha knew of the raid and facilitated it is not hard evidence. The public Pakistani statements saying that senior elements in the ISI and the military condoned the raid on Abbottabad is only anecdotal. The detailed description of exactly what happened is supposedly from one source a ‘retired senior intelligence official’ (but may have been several) who not surprisingly needs to be protected.

The parts of the story that explain things for me are:

  • The resolution of the unbelievable risk for Obama. (The story of the obtaining of DNA evidence is fascinating.) Hersh himself mentions the failed raid in 1980 to rescue the hostages in Tehran.
  • The completely over-engineered nature of the raid, as revealed by Hersh, rings true.
  • The complete lack of weapons and guards at the compound seems to confirm that bin Laden was in control of the ISI. Everyone in Pakistan is armed to the teeth. Even minor characters have armed bodyguards, as we experienced on several occasions on the Karakorum Highway.
  • The convenient electricity blackout in Abbottabad at the time of the raid.
  • The lack of hurry on the part of the navy SEALS to flee at the end, despite the helicopter crash and the explosions.

Nevertheless, we cannot expect satisfactory verification of Hersh’s claims from other sources, unless Edward Snowden provides something at some stage. However, Hersh’s story of what happened afterwards, following President Obama’s unplanned and hasty address to the nation, and what was inadvertently revealed by the Administration in the following days, is much more open to scrutiny and will be discussed in detail in Part 3.

There is nothing quite so satisfying as the zeal of a bureaucracy trying to cover up mistakes and information that should never have been revealed in the first place. Everyone tries to protect his/her arse, whilst trying to deal with the cover-up; and the added information to defend the indefensible becomes wilder. In such a process, the losers and the disgruntled proliferate, which is where investigative journalists, such as Hersh, get their information.

The Verdict

The question posed was: Whether Osama bin Laden ‘hid in plain sight’ or whether elements of the Pakistan military knew he was there?

It is inconceivable that a number people in Pakistan and in Abbottabad were not aware that Osama bin Laden was in Abbottabad. He was being protected by elements of the military and not just the ISI.

The myth of ‘hiding in plain sight’ appears to be diversion by some in the Obama Administration or the intelligence community, perhaps in reaction to the incautious release of too much information early on by the Whitehouse and the Administration.

Spike Milligan (a British-Irish Comedian) wrote a book in 1971 called Adolf Hitler: My part in his downfall. I was tempted to call this article similarly, but desisted, because Spike Milligan at least was an enlisted soldier during the war, whereas I only visited Abbottabad ten years before Osama bin Laden did.

I mention this only because the main characters in the next two parts of this story did not desist and were filled with the hubris that I avoided. The next two parts are a sorry tale of bad decisions and their consequences:  The Last Days of Osama bin Laden 2: 9/11 and The Last Days of Osama bin Laden 3: The Killing

More detailed further information

1 Captain James Abbott and the Great Game

Peter Hopkirk The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia Kodshana, 1992 mentions Captain James Abbott as do other authors on central Asia in the mid-19th century. Abbott himself wrote a book about his adventures in Khiva: Abbott, James, Sir (1807-1896) Narrative of a journey from Heraut to Khiva, Moscow, and St. Petersburgh, during the late Russian invasion of Khiva, with some account of the court of Khiva and the kingdom of Khaurism London, W. H. Allen, 1843.

The Great Game was the epic stand-off between the two superpowers of the nineteenth century — Victorian Britain and Czarist Russia — for the riches of India and the East. Based on meticulous scholarship and on-the-spot research, Peter Hopkirk’s immensely readable account covers the history at the core of today’s geopolitics. Hopkirk and John Keay have written several readable books on the history of exploration in these regions and the Great Game.

2 Michael Burt, Lord Birdwood and the Northwest Frontier

Michael Burt immortalised the Piffers in his marvellous tales of the Northwest Frontier in the two books cited and others.

Michael Burt Lean Brown Men Warde Locke1940 (reprint 1946)

Michael Burt We’ll Soldier No More Warde Locke1943 (reprint 1947)

Michael Burt, who served as a company officer of the 51st Prince of Wales’ Own Sikhs (Frontier Force) Regiment at Kohat near Peshawar. Field Marshall Lord Birdwood at a younger age commanded the 13th Frontier Force Rifles.

Major Donavan Jackson, India’s Army, Simpson Low, Marsten, London,1940 is a great description of the Indian Army before the demise of the British Empire with many illustrations and photographs; but it is more for the military enthusiast than the general public.

Lord Birdwood was important to Australia in WWI as he commanded the ANZAC Corps at the landing at Gallipoli and soon took effective command of the entire Australian Imperial Force. In 1916 he reverted to the command of the II Anzac Corps and commanded them on the Western Front. He became Commander-in-Chief, India in August 1925.

Three biographical posts on Lord Birdwood are provided by Wikipedia, The Australian National University and The Australian War Memorial.

Movie: Northwest Frontier 1959  Dir. J Lee Thompson, Kenneth More, Laruen Bacall, Herbert Lom.

Niall Ferguson (Scottish Historian)

Niall Ferguson Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World Allen Lane, 2003

Niall Ferguson got a lot of flack about this book from many sources. This is not unusual for generalist books that skip over the complexities, but even more it was a brave attempt at not being ‘politically correct’. Colonialism and Empire are still not popular subjects. I have included only one slightly negative review from The Guardian. If you’re interested in the full onslaught try Pankaj Mishra in the London Review of Books and the acrimonious debate that followed.

3 The Piffers

The PIF (Punjab Irregular Force) or Piffers when the Irregular Force was disbanded were melded and rolled into a large number of regular forces, which continued to protect the northwest frontier of British India. These regiments in part or whole are all Piffers to a greater or lesser extent.

Wikipedia gives a good account of the history of the Piffers or Frontier Force. The second article covers the history of the raising of the FF Regiment Battalions.

This is a history of the Frontier Force by the Pakistan Army and contains the rather charming video of the Piffers Regimental song (no longer available).

Here are two photographs of Abbottabad used above taken from

Photo: Aslam Jadoon /EPA captioned A general view of the city of Abbottabad. Signs on the hillside say ‘Home of Piffers’ and ‘Home of Balochis’, in reference to two regiments of the Pakistani army which are headquartered in Abbottabad.

The second photo is another wire photo: Anjum Naveed /AP MSNBC captioned Pakistani soldiers and police officers patrol near the house, background, where Osama bin Laden had lived.

The other press photo used: Farooq Naeem /AFP Part of the compound where Bin Laden was hiding from a PBS article.

Wikipedia also gives a history of the Baloch Regiment

4 Death of Osama bin Laden

General newspaper articles and detailed analysis (*) in reverse date order.

The Guardian UK 21 May, 2015 US releases more than 100 documents recovered from Osama bin Laden raid

The Guardian suggests here with some justification that the US may have released these documents as a counter to Seymour Hersh. The timing and concerted attack on Hersh by the US Administration makes this likely.

The Hersh and Gall analysis

London Review of Books 21 May, 2015 The Killing of Osama bin Laden by Seymour M. Hersh*

This is perhaps the most detailed analysis to date by a veteran investigative journalist. Seymour Hersh (born 1937) first came to attention for exposing the Mai Lai Massacre and its cover-up during the Vietnam War for which he received the Pulitzer Prize. He also received much attention in 2004 for his reports on the US military’s mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. His statements regarding Pakistan’s knowledge of the raid on Abbottabad is reliant on unnamed sources within the US intelligence community. He had been criticised for the use of anonymous sources in the past but in the current circumstances, I can’t see any way around this. As an analyst, one wants independent confirmation. His analysis of US Administration’s involvement, following President Obama’s incautious speech immediately after the raid, is more open to scrutiny and much more difficult to dismiss. We’ll discuss this later in Part 3.

This is Seymour Hersh’s bombshell article in the London Review of Books, which I would encourage you to read. It is believable and credible but reads like a spy novel, full of drama and suspense.

Background to the Iran hostage crisis and failed raid to rescue the hostages, which would have been in the thoughts of those planning the Abbottabad raid.

New York Times 12 May 2015 The Detail in Seymour Hersh’s Bin Laden Story That Rings True by Carlotta Gall and a similar article in Business Insider. These two articles show that Carlotta Gall a similarly experienced British veteran journalist backs Seymour Hersh.

Washington Post 11 February, 2015 Pakistan likely knew of Osama bin Laden’s presence, admits former spy chief

The New York Times Magazine 19 March 2014 What Pakistan knew about Bin Laden by Carlotta Gall.* This is an excerpt from her book and certainly gives an indication of a more complex story and knowledge by the Pakistanis of Bin Laden’s whereabouts.

Abbottabad Commission Report

UK Telegraph 9 July 2013, US raid that killed bin Laden was ‘an act of war’, says Pakistani report

The New York Times 9 July, 2013 Leaked reports cites Pakistan’s failings

The Daily Mail 10 July, 2013 New information on Bin Laden’s death

Pakistan’s Bin Laden dossier Al Jazeera exclusive: The investigation into the death of al-Qaeda’s leader blames top leaders for ‘gross incompetence’.

Al Jazeera article 8 July 2015 Pakistan’s bin Laden dossier

Leaked 337 page Pakistani Abbottabad Commission Report

Wikipedia on the Abbottabad Commission Report

The Telegraph UK 8 July 2013, Family tells of the dramatic last moments in the life of Osama Bin Laden

Articles in the immediate aftermath of the Osama bin Laden killing

The Telegraph UK 8 May, 2011 Osama bin Laden killed: Hidden in plain sight

The Telegraph UK 8 May, 2011 Imran Khan says Pakistan was ‘humiliated’ over Osama bin Laden, and his killing was ‘cold-blooded murder’

The Washington Post 3 May 2011: Bin Laden discovered ‘hiding in plain sight’

Key words: Abbottabad, Osama bin Laden, Osama bin Laden’s death, Piffers, Captain James Abbott, Great Game, Michael Burt, Lord Birdwood, Baloch Regiment, ISI, Seymour Hersh, Carlotta Gall, Abbottabad Commission Report, hidden in plain sight




  1. Very interesting piece, just one small point, Spike Milligan was British / Irish and brought up in India. Definitely not Australian.

    1. Author

      Thanks for the correction! I can’t imagine why I said that, as I knew Spike Milligan’s history — a mental blank or a rush of blood. Anyway always happy to be corrected. Glad you liked the piece.

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