Pakistan on Saturday began demolishing the three-storey compound where Osama bin Laden lived for years and was killed by U.S. commandos last May, eliminating a concrete reminder of the painful and embarrassing chapter in the country's history.

Pakistan was outraged by the covert American raid because it was not told about it beforehand. The country's powerful military faced rare domestic criticism because it was not able to stop U.S. troops from infiltrating the country by helicopter from Afghanistan.

The compound was located next to Pakistan's equivalent of West Point.

Three mechanized backhoes began their demolition of the compound in the northwest city of Abbottabad after sunset on Saturday, said two local residents, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were afraid of being harassed by the government.

Authorities set up floodlights so they could work after dark, said the residents.

Backhoes broke outer walls

The demolition team conducted its work under heavy security. A large team of police set up an outer cordon around the compound to keep spectators away, said an Associated Press reporter who managed to get close enough to see the demolition work under way.

A ring of army soldiers set up an inner cordon and warmed themselves against the winter chill by lighting a bonfire.

The backhoes broke through tall outer boundary walls that ringed a courtyard where one of the U.S. helicopters crashed during the operation to kill the al-Qaeda chief, said the AP reporter. They then began to tear down the compound itself.

A Pakistani intelligence official confirmed that the demolition was in progress but declined to say why the government chose to do it. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.