Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Continuing Fallout From US bin Laden Raid; US Launched Raids Into Pakistan Prior to Successful Bin Laden Raid

While the successful mission to kill Osama bin Laden rightfully gets tons of press, it was hardly the first time that the elite DEVGRU/SEAL Team 6 operated within Pakistan with orders to go after high value targets. In fact, two such missions were carried out during the Bush Administration, but they came away without getting their targets. In one instance, the target was Ayman al Zawahiri.
But what it reveals is that last Monday's operation, which has sparked ferocious debate in Pakistan over national sovereignty, is far from the first time that elite US forces have mounted military operations on the ground in the nuclear-armed nation.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani was to address parliament last night to reiterate a message driven home last week by Pakistani military chiefs - that the country would not tolerate any further breaches of sovereignty by the US or any other nation.

He was also expected to announce a parliamentary inquiry into the intelligence services' failure to detect bin Laden, who lived for five years under their noses in the garrison town of Abbottabad.

Pakistani army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani told senior Pakistani journalists last week that "certain red lines had been crossed" by the US military.

Several people present at that briefing have suggested the subtext of his message was that the US had crossed a line by carrying out an operation in an area where Pakistan's urban and increasingly anti-US population could bear witness to it.

The Navy SEAL operation in Bajaur Agency was first reported by The New York Times in 2008, which cited a former top CIA official as confirming the mission.

A former ISI station chief for Pakistan's Pashtun-dominated northwest and tribal areas from 2001 to 2003, Asad Munir, yesterday also confirmed the 2006 operation took place, and was different to the drone strike on a suspected Zawahiri compound in January of the same year that is said to have killed up to 25 civilians.

"They flew over in helicopters, people came out on ladders and searched the compound, found nothing, and flew back," Brigadier Munir told The Australian.

"It was known by the ISI, but not by the media, and never made it to the newspapers. It was a very low-profile operation, but I have no doubt that it occurred."

He said yet another operation occurred in 2008 just over the Afghan border in South Waziristan, in which three US special operations officers raided a madrassa suspected of being used as a base from which insurgents were firing on coalition forces.

Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former chief secretary of the northwest frontier province and Tribal Areas Commissioner, also confirmed the fact that last week's Navy SEALs raid was not the first on Pakistani soil.
What makes the bin Laden raid notable is that it was successful in getting the target - and it was as high profile a target as can be imagined. When the other raids didn't get their targets, the teams involved were able to slip away.

Moreover, it appears that the ISI and military were caught flat footed over the bin Laden raid, as compared to closer coordination in the prior raids. Considering how the ISI and military have their fingers in every aspect of the Pakistani economy and security apparatus, it's hard for some to believe that the ISI or military didn't know that bin Laden was living in Abbottabad. In many respects, the ISI and military operate in the same fashion as Iran's IRGC does - complete with its own economic support system outside that of the local economy.

The Pakistani leadership is clearly red-faced in public over the raid; and they are quick to lay blame on the US for carrying out the raid even though there are ongoing indications that a significant segment of the Pakistani public and military and ISI are predisposed to bin Laden's worldview and radicalization.

At the same time, there are now reports that the US and Pakistan had worked out a deal a decade ago that the US would go after bin Laden in Pakistan. It was a secret deal between Pervez Musharraf and President Bush. Pakistani forces would allow unilateral raids by the US to go after bin Laden or Zawahiri.
The United States repeatedly told Pakistan that Washington would send American forces into that country if it had evidence that Osama bin Laden was hiding there, according to current and former U.S. officials.

The message that the United States would not hesitate to send American operatives into Pakistan to get bin Laden was transmitted to top Pakistani officials on multiple occasions by the administrations of Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, said a U.S. national security official who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive information.

A former senior U.S. counter-terrorism official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was an "understanding" between Washington and Islamabad that amounted to an acknowledgment by Pakistani authorities that the United States would take unilateral action on Pakistani soil if it had intelligence on the al Qaeda leader's whereabouts.

Of course, the news of the secret deal has gotten the usual suspects in Pakistan upset. Even Musharraf originally stated that the US was in the wrong for going after bin Laden in Pakistan last week. Did anyone in the current government know about the deal, even as they were quick to blame the US for invading and violating their sovereignty. The nationalists in the Pakistani government are quick to blame the US, even though bin Laden was living under the Pakistani noses for years without anyone seeming to know anything about it.

Now, it's possible that Musharraf didn't inform the current Pakistani government or that the US didn't reiterate that understanding, but I find that hard to believe. Instead, it's much more likely that the Pakistanis wanted to find fault with the US actions because it shows just how little the US trusts the Pakistani ISI and military to keep a secret - and the possibility that the ISI/military could have been tipping off key al Qaeda/Taliban to avoid being captured/killed in these raids.

The question of Pakistani sovereignty is an odd one when one further considers that the Pakistanis can barely control their own territory - the frontier provinces are autonomous and Pakistani military forces operate there at their own risk because of Taliban and al Qaeda threats.

Meanwhile, bin Laden's son, Omar, is busy comparing the US raid to kill his father to an assassination and that Osama was denied some form of due process.
“When Osama did not resist, why wasn’t he arrested? After being killed, why didn’t the family get to identify him? Why was he buried at sea when that is against their Islamic beliefs?”

The questions were posted by Jean Sasson, an American writer, on her blog on Tuesday. Sasson helped bin Laden’s son Omar bin Laden write the memoir, “Growing Up bin Laden.” He has publicly denounced his father’s terrorism, but is still seeking answers to the circumstances around his death.

Sasson provided a further statement to the New York Times from Omar bin Laden, that said, “We maintain that arbitrary killing is not a solution to political problems ... justice must be seen to be done.”
Cry me a river - bin Laden declared war on the US; he never gave any of his thousands of victims due process; and that he wasn't armed when the raid happened doesn't detract from the fact that he was a mass murderer who was essentially caught with his pants down (lacking weapons and inadequate security) when the SEAL team killed him.

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