May 27 2008

Is Bin Laden Within Our Sites? – Updated!

Published by at 12:59 pm under All General Discussions,Bin Laden/GWOT,Pakistan

Major Update: It seems a key Taliban leader in Pakistan is claiming Bin Laden is dead:

A top Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud has rejected reports that al-Qaeda leader, Osama Bin Laden, and other leaders are hiding in his region.

“The al-Qaeda leader, Osama Bin Laden is dead, and the Afghan Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, are not in our territory,” he said in an interview broadcast by a satellite television network.

Funeral prayers have been said for Osama bin Laden over the years with one reported by a Pakistani news organisation, and another in an Egyptian newspaper as far back as December 2001.

This report quoted an official of the Taliban saying that he had suffered serious complications in the lungs and died a natural and quiet death.

H/T to Allah Pundit at Hot Air. Very interesting, if true. Of course it could be an attempt to cover for Bin Laden, who seems to be in the cross-hairs of US forces at the moment. Another interesting article out today claims the CIA is preparing for a violent succession fight in al-Qaeda’s leadership:

The U.S. is making “a big and continual push” to capture or kill al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, but his demise won’t end the organization’s menace, CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden said Tuesday in an Associated Press interview.

The CIA is equally interested in those jockeying to replace bin Laden in what he predicted will be a “succession crisis.”

“It will be really interesting to see how that plays out. The organization is a lot more networked than it is ruthlessly hierarchical,” Hayden said of the group behind the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. “How do you pick the next overall leader?”

A number of Egyptians are now part of al-Qaida’s top echelon and may struggle for power among themselves. Bin Laden’s current No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is an Egyptian.

Is this a bit of foreshadowing of things to come? Very interesting indeed. – end update.

I firmly believe this is the year we will finally find Bin Laden.  My view is that the loss of Iraq is causing fractures and activities inside al-Qaeda that finally came together to tip us off to where Bin Laden and Zawahiri may be hiding out.  In addition, 75% of Afghanistan is basically pacified, and there appears to be very few al-Qaeda leaders left in that country.  What these successes in Iraq and Afghanistan have wrought is to (a) reduce the viable sanctions for al-Qaeda to operate in to the Pakistan Tribal Areas, and (b) force many al-Qaeda leaders to travel from Iraq and Afghanistan to regroup with al-Qaeda operations.

Given a manageable area to focus surveillance and the opportunity to identify travel patterns it is really only a matter of time before enough data points are collected to build a clear picture of what is happening on the ground.  And one report out of the area seems to indicate that we may have achieved this state already:

Nearly seven years after invading Afghanistan to go after Osama bin Laden, the United States has stepped up its campaign to catch the al-Qaeda leader and his senior associates, including Ayman al-Zawahiri, who are believed to be in the rugged terrain spanning Bajaur Agency in Pakistan and the neighboring Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nooristan. 

The US has increased surveillance operations through newly built 

bases in the region and additional daily flights of Predator drones scour the area for any suspicious characters who might lead the US to the world’s most wanted man. 

The recent killing of leading al-Qaeda figures Sheikh Abu Soliman and Sheikh Osman in Damadolah, Bajaur Agency, by US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) drones was the result of the spy network’s stepped-up surveillance in this vital corridor. (SeeDucking and diving under B-52s Asia Times Online, May 22, 2008, in which the news of the death of the two men was first reported.) 

According to some reports, in the past few days, US security and military officials held a top-level summit at a military base in the Qatari capital of Doha to plan an operation to hunt for the al-Qaeda leader. General David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, and the US ambassador to Islamabad, Anne Petersen, were reported to have attended the summit. 

The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan have been, through a process of elimination, considered the final redoubt of al-Qaeda’s leaders.  As the map below shows the two agencies in the area to see the most terrorist activity (South Waziristan and Bajuar) are actually quite dispersed (click to go to larger original):

My suspicions are Bin Laden and Zawahiri have separated to avoid being taken out in a single hit (though we could hit multiple locations with ease). One has set up shop in the Waziristan area on the Southwest end of FATA and one has set up shop in the Bajuar region at the Northeast end. Of course they would move from safe-house to safe-house on a regular basis. But what one would discern over years of surveillance is the pattern of movement between these two locations as messages and resources are shared between the two (or more) groups. This is how US forces identified the safe houses to take out on three occasions so far, by following the traffic pattern of humans – which is one of the communication methods being employed to avoid detection.

But our surveillance methods don’t rely solely on electronic data – which is something the terrorists probably forgot. We still are a people of trackers, who know how to use other means to determine where to find our quarry. And after years of analyzing the movements of people and material I am sure we have developed a very detailed map of locations and movements that would identify our targets. The strength of intelligence is being able to focus on one area of interest for a long time to collect the data to fill in the picture. That is why it has taken so long to find Bin Laden and Zawahiri – this kind of data collection and picture development takes a lot of time.

And it helps to have major changes in the tactical picture (like losing Iraq and Afghanistan) to force the picture to change and identify where these changes occur. Those gathering forces in FATA probably provided the final pieces of the puzzle in determining where (and where not) to find Bin Laden and his cohorts.

Addendum: I wanted to note this comment from a terrorist who was ‘interviewed’ for the article:

“If, God forbid, they catch or kill the sheikh [bin Laden] it would cause a huge loss to the mujahideen. Believe you me, it would be like almost winning the war. The morale of the mujahideen would be low and all the money pouring in from the Middle East would stop because it only comes in the sheikh’s name,” S said.

We have come close to destroying the movement in the minds of many Muslims. Only in the tribal regions of Pakistan does the movement seem to still hold sway over the majority of people (in other areas of Middle East support is well below 50% now). But then again, Jihad has not yet really come home to them yet. Sooner or later they will need to see what it means to fight America – up close and personal. Because it is only through the deterrence of strength do we get to live in peace.

7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Is Bin Laden Within Our Sites? – Updated!”

  1. gwood says:

    I think it would be more healing for the American psyche, not to mention more damaging to the cause of the jihadis, to CAPTURE bin-Laden, and bring him back for execution. The fact is, a missile hit on his cave or tent might leave no DNA to prove we had killed him, and he has probably accumulated enough audio for his minions to patch together to pretend he was alive for some time after he’s toes up.

    I recommend that a special execution, by executive order, be arranged to occur at Ground Zero in New York.

    Am I letting my emotions interfere with reason here?

  2. joe six-pack says:

    My largest concern in this area is the new government of Pakistan.
    They have been making deals with the Taliban: Cease-fires, prisoner exchanges and withdrawals of the military from certain areas with the understanding that the Taliban will not attack them.

  3. crosspatch says:

    Found an interesting paragraph in a NYT article describing the Marines success in Southern Afghanistan:

    “The majority of elements in this area are Arab and Pakistani, and the locals detest them,” he said. The insurgent commanders were from Iran, which shares a border with Afghanistan to the southwest, as well as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, he said.


  4. Terrye says:

    I have to admit, I think Bin Ladin might be dead as well.

  5. Frogg says:

    That “In the crosshairs of US forces” clickable link was interesting. I notice that Petraeus was in the meetings.

    Another recent article in the NY Sun makes me go hmmmm…..

    Petraeus’s Next Job: Finish Hunt for Bin Laden

  6. the struggler says:

    “Sooner or later they will need to see what it means to fight America…”

    Amen, brother.

  7. ivehadit says:

    I just can’t help but think…

    Never underestimate the “cowboy” from Texas.