Was Osama Betrayed?

Abbottabad is a small town merely 70 plus miles from Islamabad. It is essentially a military cantonment, hosting four Regimental Centers and a few army units, with the inevitable attendance of numerous security and intelligence agents. The military academy is only a few miles distant from the heart of the town. Although part of the K-P Province, it is essentially non-Pashtun.

It’s the kind of place where any non-military looking stranger would stand out and, a large number of strangers would immediately give rise to suspicion.

Osama, a man on the run, with a bounty of $25 million on his head who, according to all previous CIA reports was in hiding either in the safety of the (now) famous caves of Tora Bora, Afghanistan or flitting to and fro across the Durand Line, but always in the Pashtun Taliban infested region, always secreted, and always under heavy protection. That was his natural habitat: Pashtun/Taliban area. Why, in the name of anything Holy, should he risk his life by secreting himself in Abbottabad with minimal protection — a non-Pashtun, non-Taliban region where there is no direct link to escape to either Pakistan’s tribal areas or to Afghanistan?

I am aware of what many Afghans are saying and many Americans implying/inferring: that this, in fact, establishes the nexus between Osama and the Pakistan military/ISI. The fact that the lady (purporting to be one of Osama’s wives) stated that she had been living in this house for about three months has been, deliberately or erroneously, interpreted to imply that Osama too had been there for that period! In fact, more adventurous journalists are now talking about the whole family living there for almost six years! How far will they go, to demonize Pakistan?

For the record, this property has been under ISI surveillance while it was under construction. It was first raided in 2003, and the ISI just missed capturing Al-Libby (he was later captured by the ISI close to Mardan in K-P Province). It has been raided on numerous occasions since.

May I remind those leveling these accusations that, in a video aired by Al-Jazeera TV, Al-Qaeda announced in 2007 that, ‘our enemy number one is no longer the US; it is now Pakistan’. And that, since 2007, Pakistani civilian and military casualties at the hands of those who responded to this call exceeds by far the casualties of American civilians and military personnel, including those killed in Afghanistan. I freely admit that there are Pakistan-friendly Taliban whom we refuse to attack at the US’ behest; and why should we? But Al-Qaeda is a common enemy; more our enemy than it is the US’s.

We are told by the media that years of dogged intelligence effort, led to this victory. That the CIA managed to identify a person who ‘they felt’ was Osama’s most trusted courier but it took much time to track him down. Then, of course they stuck to him like glue and he led them to this house, which belonged to the courier, where Osama was in hiding.

In an earlier article here, discussing Raymond Davis’ release, I had pointed out the difference between human intelligence (HUMINT) and electronic intelligence (ELINT). The explanation offered regarding his being tracked down is extremely plausible, since it relates to the initial identification of a suspect through HUMINT and subsequent constant tracking by ELINT; very plausible.

Then there is another simple answer to his discovery., i.e. Osama was sold out! The operation was the result of entrapment. An entrapment organized through one or more of his most trusted aides, who had to, not only assure him of his safety, but also had to lure him into the trap with the prospect of an offer that would tempt him to take the risk.

If my reasoning, so far, is correct, could this negotiation and sell out have occurred by Osama’s most trusted confidante directly with the CIA? Not impossible; but highly unlikely. A far more likely possibility is that contact would be established through Pakistan-friendly Taliban with ISI.

While rumors of his death in 2001/2 have always been around, those who thought he was alive also were of the view that he was in swift physical decline. He was diabetic and had serious problems with his kidney and his liver; he could hardly walk. When he could not be provided a vehicle or a horse, he had to be carried piggy back. He rarely attended the Shoora, the advisory council he used to preside over regularly and, when he did, he rarely made a meaningful contribution. Even if he was alive, for all practical purposes, Al-Qaeda was being run by his deputy, Ayman al Zwahiri. Osama had become a liability.

In one fell swoop, through his sell-out, Al-Qaeda could have received the much needed bounty of $25 million, got rid of a liability, found a more dynamic replacement, and offered the US an excuse, if it wants to take it, to exit from Afghanistan. But the US is not looking for an excuse to get out; it is looking for an excuse to extend its stay, and one will soon be on offer! America won’t have long to wait for a replacement for Osama as your next Enemy.

While Obama claims that the attack was carried out exclusively by US forces flying under radar cover from Afghanistan without informing the Pakistan government till the last minute. I have my reservations on that. The Durand Line is manned by personnel from the Frontier Corps and any large sized helicopter movement would be picked up by them and reported. Moreover, while Navy SEALs might well have carried out the actual attack, they could not have been in sufficient numbers to also protect their rear! I am sure they would have needed our assistance for that.

In fact, the latest news is that US helicopters accompanied by a C-130 equipped with high tech monitoring equipment (which was attempting, futilely as CIA Director  Panetta has now admitted,  to transmit the attack in real time for Obama to watch) as well as massive jamming capability (due to which all communication in and around Abbottabad remained inoperative for the duration of the attack) took off from Tarbela, Pakistan! If this is true, it makes it impossible for the military/ISI to be unaware of this.

What is more, neighbors that I spoke to confirm that they awoke to the sound of a loud crash followed by sounds of heavy firing and, by the time they emerged, minutes later, all they could see were Pakistani soldiers!

The nearest (unprepared) military response to this attack could only have come from one of the Regimental (Training) Centers 8.5 kilometers from the Osama compound by the shortest route. These are training recruits, not Rapid Response units. If they responded after the commencement of the attack, they would have had to get into uniform, draw weapons from the armory, ammunition from the ammunition store and then set forth to reach the site. It would be physically impossible for them to reach the site in less than an hour.

However, if Obama lied in this instance, it is more than likely that he has done so on the request of Pakistan’s cowardly leaders who, apprehensive of the backlash, from any association with an operation to kill Osama, would prefer that the US take full responsibility and credit.

In all fairness to the political leadership, it is essential to also offer a kinder explanation: that the US shared this information only with the Pakistan army and not the political leadership. That wouldn’t be a first either. Even if this assumption be true, it does not detract from the fact that, fearing reprisals, Zardari, who lives imprisoned in his presidential palace, would prefer not to confess to the participation of Pakistan in Osama’s death.

We, round the world, share the tragedy of 9/11 and the WTC being brought down. But was Osama another Hitler? I don’t think Osama could have asked more in life, or in death. He lived and died a celebrity. You Americans have made him a legend; an insignificant mass murderer became a legend in his lifetime and after his death!

Your president, Obama says to us, ‘he was buried at sea, so that no monument could be built for him’. Tragically, YOU have already built a monument to him. It can be found in Washington D.C.

I have already suggested that Al-Qaeda is dying, though in time. Revolutions in the Arab World are making Al-Qaeda increasingly irrelevant. These revolts are not the rise of Islamic movements; but revolts against tyranny and oppression. They seek a representative government that fulfills the aspirations of its people. However, continued US intervention in that region could again give rise to militant Islam and infuse new life into Al-Qaeda.While Al-Qaeda survives, Osama’s death will make no difference; it will be business as usual.

The tenuous Pak-US relations have been further exacerbated by the way this event has been covered by the media. The official love-hate relations between the two countries will continue; again, business as usual.

Zbigniew Brezhinski authored a book titled ‘Game Plan’. Premised on the assumption that the USA and USSR were implacable enemies for life, it offered the US a plan to destroy the USSR. In brief the plan envisaged an USSR expanding militarily till it went beyond its ability to economically sustain the military expansion and imploded.

No one in the US put that plan into effect, but the USSR did it to itself. It expanded militarily to an unsustainable economic over-stretch and imploded.

Now it’s the US’ turn to tread the same path and, believe me, you are fast getting there! The US will probably not implode; merely age to a frail wraith of its former self. We will not live to see it but perhaps, our children will; unless US policies change drastically and very, very, soon!

Shaukat Qadir is a retired brigadier and a former president of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute. He can be reached at shaukatq@gmail.com