Friday, May 06, 2011

More Details Emerge On Raid That Got Bin Laden; And One That Missed

Now that al Qaeda has itself admitted that yes, Osama bin Laden is dead, the deathers (aka those who don't believe President Obama when he says that bin Laden is dead) will relent and admit that bin Laden is indeed dead as President Obama says? Any takers on that? I'll even give odds.

No? Good. Because some people will never admit that bin Laden was killed in that raid.

In any event, bin Laden was quite busy while lounging in that Abbottabad compound all these years (his wife says she never left in all that time) plotting and planning further attacks. That he was focusing on railways around the world, and particularly in the US is quite troublesome because rail security particularly in the US has always lagged that of the airlines.

The US has also carried out the first UAV airstrike since bin Laden's death, targeting terrorists in the frontier province of Waziristan:
A suspected CIA drone strike targeted a hotel Thursday in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan’s borderlands, killing eight people, according to Pakistani news reports.

A series of missiles pounded the town of Datta Khel, near what U.S. officials believe is the headquarters of the Haqqani network, an Afghan insurgent force that has staged deadly bombings in Afghan cities and regularly attacks NATO troops in eastern Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, as details continue to leak about the raid that killed bin Laden, we're learning about the efforts that came up short to get bin Laden in the past.

The NYT reports that intel had indicated that bin Laden may have contemplated a meeting in Tora Bora in 2007, and that a mission was planned and aircraft routed to intercept, but were called back when the intel turned out to be less than reliable and concerns raised about collateral damage. That instead led to a commando mission - killing a bunch of terrorists, but revealing that bin Laden wasn't among them.
“We thought we had ‘No. 1’ on this side of the border,” said a senior American military officer involved in planning the operation. “It was the best intelligence we’d had on him in a long time.”

The military set into motion one of the largest strike missions of its kind, with long-range bombers, attack helicopters, artillery and commandos all ready to pummel the rugged mountain valley along Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan, according to military officers and former government officials.

But just as the half dozen B-2 Stealth bombers were halfway on the 3,000-mile flight to their target, commanders ordered them to return to their secret base in the Indian Ocean, because of doubts about the intelligence on Bin Laden and concerns about civilian casualties from the bombs.

A smaller, more precise raid was carried out by commandos and attack helicopters, killing several dozen militants in the episode, which has not been previously disclosed.

But the founder and formative figure of Al Qaeda was not there.

Inside the White House, the disappointment was palpable, according to senior aides to former President George W. Bush. What might have been Mr. Bush’s last chance at redeeming his administration’s failure to capture or kill Bin Laden after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, when he was cornered in the same Tora Bora region but escaped into Pakistan, did not materialize.

Amid the national relief over the killing of Bin Laden by a Navy Seal team in Abbottabad, Pakistan, this secret chapter in the hunt for the world’s most famous fugitive is a reminder of the years of frustration and false hopes government officials endured in trying to pick up his trail.
Note too that this was after the shutdown of the bin Laden section in the CIA by the Bush Administration.

It also shows that the CIA was still not on the ball when it came to bin Laden and al Qaeda's operational hierarchy. After all, the CIA was stating at that time that:
The decision is a milestone for the agency, which formed the unit before Osama bin Laden became a household name and bolstered its ranks after the Sept. 11 attacks, when President Bush pledged to bring Mr. bin Laden to justice "dead or alive."

The realignment reflects a view that Al Qaeda is no longer as hierarchical as it once was, intelligence officials said, and a growing concern about Qaeda-inspired groups that have begun carrying out attacks independent of Mr. bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Agency officials said that tracking Mr. bin Laden and his deputies remained a high priority, and that the decision to disband the unit was not a sign that the effort had slackened. Instead, the officials said, it reflects a belief that the agency can better deal with high-level threats by focusing on regional trends rather than on specific organizations or individuals.
The US focus had shifted towards going after al Qaeda's mid level terror network, perhaps hoping to lead to the high value targets in the process. That too may have led them to carry out the 2007 attack in the hopes of capturing or killing bin Laden.

The Pakistanis can cooperate only so much without setting off the Islamists in a serious way. One report today indicated that the Pakistanis knew to some extent about the raid and have to claim otherwise to keep the Islamists from jumping ugly in a serious way to overthrow the government.

Another report indicates that the US informed the Pakistanis that they were carrying out this mission - while the mission was already underway. Details may or may not be accurate that the Pakistanis had scrambled jets to deal with the inbound flight of US helicopters and were sent away once notification reached the Pakistani military. The lede on that report was that the US could have been close to having a disastrous run-in with the Pakistani military during the mission inside Pakistan's borders with disastrous consequences for both sides.

If the Pakistanis are now scrambling to make more arrests, that intel could come one of four different paths: (1) directly from the people who the US left behind at Abbottabad, (2) the US could have sent them the necessary intel; (3) gathered from independent sources completely; (4) combination of sources. No way to know for sure.

It's the same deal about today's UAV airstrike - there's no way to know if it is connected with the OBL mission raid intel cache, or whether it was planned separately.

It appears that the CIA was tracking the Abbottabad compound from a house nearby. They used a variety of electronic eavesdropping methods, but the agency refuses to comment on those reports. Some means and methods should not be revealed, lest they reveal too much about tactics and capabilities that the US uses to track down al Qaeda and other high value targets around the world.

Further evidence of Pakistani duplicity - based on statements being released from the Pakistanis themselves. It raises still more troubling details in the bin Laden search over the years - particularly in how the Pakistanis were involved, especially as it relates to bin Laden's wife who is now in Pakistani custody.
A few key points from the story: She’s now in Pakistani custody, recovering from the gunshot wound; U.S. intelligence officials are unlikely to get the chance to speak with her. After 9/11 when the Afghan campaign began, Pakistan’s government reportedly gave her haven and helped her return to Yemen. She later reentered Pakistan to join her husband, which, as McGirk writes, points out a potentially major intelligence lapse in hindsight: Why take years deciphering courier aliases when bin Laden’s wife could have led them right to him?

On top of that, there’s this detail of further alleged Pakistani duplicity, which will only further inflame tensions at a delicate moment:

Says [an] Arab woman formerly connected to al-Qaeda: “There was an understanding with the Pakistani army. We would get a tip-off that the army planned to raid one of our houses in the tribal area. We would flee but leave some ‘evidence’ behind so that the army could show to the Americans that we’d been there.”
I have no doubt that the latter may help explain the former. If the CIA believed that the Pakistanis were laying down a false trail or were coopted by al Qaeda, then trying to track down bin Laden based on his wife's whereabouts could have been seen as a false trail. This reinforces the notion that the Pakistanis were apparently left in the dark about the operation because the US didn't trust elements within the Pakistani government to not tip off al Qaeda and bin Laden. It also explains, in part, why the Pakistanis aren't going to let the CIA and US officials anywhere near her. On top of cultural and religious misgivings over such interrogations, bin Laden's wife would likely reveal much about bin Laden and al Qaeda's relationship with those within the security services and military.

Apparently the Pakistanis understand the visuals of the situation, and they may have decided that the best course of action is to sack the head of the Pakistani intel services (ISI):
To allay both domestic and international anger and dismay over the presence of Osama bin Laden in a military cantonment town close to the capital, senior Pakistani officials have told The Daily Beast they recognize that an important head has to roll and soon. They say the most likely candidate to be the fall guy is Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the director general of the country’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate. In a last ditch effort to control the damage and to assure the US that the ISI was not harboring him and was unaware of his presence in Pakistan, Pasha reportedly flew to Washington today. But these high-level sources who refused to be quoted or named say his resignation is only a matter of time.

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