- Associated Press - Sunday, February 26, 2012

ABBOTTABAD, PAKISTANPakistan pushed ahead Sunday with its surprise demolition of the compound where U.S. commandos killed Osama bin Laden last year, likely an attempt to erase the symbol of the colossal security failure that humiliated the nation and severely damaged ties with Washington.

Heavy machines began tearing down bin Laden’s three-story compound Saturday night under heavy security without the government providing advance notice.

By Sunday evening, workers had destroyed around three-quarters of the large concrete compound and its tall boundary walls. They were clearing debris in large trucks so they could finish the job, according to an Associated Press reporter who managed to get close to the site.

Large numbers of police still surrounded the compound Sunday to keep spectators and journalists away, but the army soldiers present the previous night had departed.

Islamabad was outraged by the covert American raid in the northwestern town of Abbottabad because it was not told about it beforehand — a decision the U.S. explained by concerns that someone in the Pakistani government might tip off the al Qaeda chief.

The operation left Pakistan’s powerful army in the awkward position of explaining how it was unable to stop U.S. troops from attacking a compound deep inside Pakistan and located next to the country’s military academy.

Citizens also demanded to know how bin Laden was able to live in Abbottabad for six years without the government’s knowledge, a question that remains unanswered.

The raid drove the crucial anti-terror alliance between the U.S. and Pakistan close to the breaking point, and in many ways it has never recovered. The relationship is critical to U.S. efforts to wind down the decade-long war in neighboring Afghanistan.

Local residents expressed mixed feelings about the demolition, with some applauding the move and others saying the government should have put the building to public use.

Shabbir Ahmed, a 22-year-old college student in Abbottabad, said the presence of the compound sparked bad memories and made the lives of local residents more difficult.

“We were searched and questioned every time we wanted to reach our homes,” Mr. Ahmed said. “When this symbol of evil is finally gone, people in the area will be able to rest.”

But Mohammad Sarwar, a retired 60-year-old businessman, said razing the compound didn’t make sense and was a waste of money.

“I don’t know what benefit the government will get by its demolition instead of using it for some official or public purpose, like establishing a school, library or laboratory,” said Mr. Sarwar.