Source: US Getting Close to al-Qaeda’s No. 2

The US military and CIA, at command of the Obama administration, is continuing the hunt for top-level al-Qaeda operatives. With new leads obtained from Osama bin Laden’s hard drives, CBS news reports that the US is narrowing the search for Ayman al Zawahiri, bin Laden’s former second-in-command and his likely successor as al-Qaeda’s leader. If this materializes into a capture of al Zawahiri, it could prove that Obama’s shift in focus for the fight against al-Qaeda is paying off (a shift toward more high-tech intelligence gathering, frequent drone attacks, and special-ops missions).

From Slate:

The source warns that while the info is promising, it won’t lead U.S. forces directly to Zawahiri’s door: “It’s not as easy as going to an address. They may not be there anymore but it helps [as] a point of reference.”

For more information, check out this article on Slate.

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Gadhafi’s Forces Plant Mines in Water to Block Aid to Misrata

A WWII-era mine detonated in 2011 (Military Times, click for story).

Anti-ship mine detonation (click for story)

Libyan government forces have placed naval mines in the waters off the port city of Misrata, where rebels are hunkered down in their key strategic city in the West of the country. The aim of this is to prevent humanitarian aid from reaching Misrata, the rebel stronghold, which has been shelled by Gadhafi’s artillery extensively throughout the conflict. NATO is aware, but have not quite resolved the issue. From CBC.ca:

“There was an announcement from the Libyan government, the Ministry of Transportation, that Misrata port is closed and that any foreign ship or vessel would be targeted by the Libyan armed forces,” Kaim said when asked about attempts by the regime on Friday to lay anti-ship mines along the access route to Misrata’s port.

Two of the mines were destroyed, but a third floated away, and NATO vessels have been searching for it. The attempted mining has disrupted the delivery of desperately needed supplies to Misrata, a city of 300,000.

CBC quotes a spokesman for the Internation Organization for Migration: “The Red Star One had waited off Misrata for several days, for fear of mines.” The Red Star One is on a mission “to deliver basic supplies and evacuate some 1,000 migrants and wounded civilians from the city.” The situation has been dire: “Two seriously ill civilians died earlier this week while IOM was waiting for permission from NATO and Libyan authorities to dock the ship in Misrata,” the spokesman said.

Gadhafi holds most of the West of the country, while the rebels hold cities in the East. Gadhafi’s military has continued to shell Misrata, some say indiscriminately. There are no signs of a break in the stalemate. NATO air power holds back Gadhafi’s tanks, and their lack of equipment and experience evidently prevents the rebels from advancing on Gadhafi’s positions. Click the image below for a map of the conflict:

Map of the Libyan Conflict

Map of the Libyan Conflict

The CBC article gives a very good image of recent development and the current situation in Libya.

Why Did It Take So Long to Find Osama bin Laden?

The Pakistani military was probably hiding him:

City where they found bin Laden.

Pakistan’s military has been linked to terrorist attacks in India, Pakistan’s neighbor. There have been  accusations of ties to al-Qaeda as well, often from other governments. He was found in a town 40 minutes drive from the capital of Pakistan, in an area known as a vacation spot for Pakistan’s military generals:

He was in a town in the Northern part of the country. Very early in the conflict, it was said that he was likely in the mountains along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Later, it was thought he may be hiding in the remote tribal regions of Pakistan. As it turns out, he was in this picturesque neighborhood in the North of the country.Afghanistan, Pakistan From the Daily Telegraph:

But a report based on intelligence gained from a detainee in Guantanamo Bay, released just last week by Wikileaks, suggested that bin Laden in fact headed in another direction, towards Jalalabad [in Afghanistan].

The report suggested that he stayed there in a safe house – while a $25 million (£15 million) bounty hung over his head – before heading towards the remote province of Kunar, in north-east Afghanistan.

It was said that 50 fighters, sent by a cleric from Pakistan, helped Osama bin Laden and his second-in-command, al-Zawahiri, escape to the Kunar province, a unruly, chaotic no-man’s-land, where he likely stayed until late 2002.

Describing the time following September 11 and the US invasion Afghanistan, the Telegraph writes:

Known to his close followers as “the sheik”, and surrounded by 40 bodyguards, bin Laden was said to have moved with utmost care around the tribal-run border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It was reported that the personnel protecting bin Laden had an agreed code word that, when uttered, would signify that enemy forces were approaching and that they must martyr themselves.

The Guardian has more on the close-call of US forces, when US military trainers were “yards” away from Osama bin Laden’s safe house in 2008. Ironically, they were conduction a mission to train Pakistani forces in Abbottabad. The US has had a anti-terrorism relationship with Pakistan since the early 2000’s and Pakistan receives about US $1 billion in aid for counter-terrorism operations. From the Guardian:

Reports suggested that on at least one occasion, US troops came very close to bin Laden’s compound, prompting intense disquiet among the terrorist leader’s circle. But they never came close enough.

US forces were stationed just a few hundred yards from Osama Bin Laden‘s Abbottabad compound in October 2008, according to reports within the WikiLeaks embassy cables.

The revelation that US forces were so close to the world’s most wanted man in 2008 comes after material from the Guantánamo files suggested the US may have received the intelligence that led them to Bin Laden as early as 2008.

The US soldiers were due to perform a routine posting “training the trainers” of Pakistan‘s 70,000-strong federal military unit, the Frontier Corps.

All evidence points to a combination of resources, caution and luck to keep bin Laden from being caught in the first years after 2001. Once the trail had gone cold, US intelligence apparently didn’t pick up his scent again until months, maybe even just weeks, before they found him.

The Telegraph:

Last night it appeared that, in the face of longstanding and intense US attacks on the tribal regions, bin Laden had been forced to flee to the town of Abbottabad, north of Islamabad. There, the intense secrecy surrounding his movements would have been far more easily breached.

His apparent hideout was, for instance, close to a cinema, a police station and a hospital for women and children. In the wilds of the tribal regions his operation might have gone largely unnoticed. But it appeared that working from here, apparently in a mansion with no external communications, where residents burned their rubbish, was too much: too many suspicions were aroused.

For more interesting details on the myths and realities of Osama, check out the Guardian’s article on 10 ‘key’ myths about bin Laden. (The last myth may not be so key.)

US Recovered “Mother Lode of Intelligence” in Raid That Killed bin Laden

Mike Allen writes, “The assault force of Navy SEALs snatched a trove of computer drives and disks during their weekend raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, yielding what a U.S. official called ‘the mother lode of intelligence.'”

The 40-minute raid on bin Laden’s compound netted “personal computers, thumb drives and electronic equipment”. One US official is quote asking, “Can you imagine what’s on Osama bin Laden’s hard drive?”

How Did They Identify Osama bin Laden’s body?

A “senior Defense Department official”, quoted in Wired, said that they probably used a Secure Electronic Enrollment Kit (SEEK). It’s a biometrics recorder that does “iris scans, fingerprints and facial scans” and sends the data to the FBI.

From Wired.com:

One of several biometric identity checks US personnel likely performed.

“We’ve always said this is about more than finding people in a crowd,” said the senior defense official, who requested anonymity to talk about the CSI-like gear that Special Operations Forces carry. The latest version, developed by a company called Crossmatch, is known as SEEK II, and it came out last year. It weighs less than 4 pounds, and its ability to send information back to the FBI database is “wham-bam,” even from low-connectivity areas.

The same official said that, despite facial recognition technology, fingerprints remain a reliable source of biometric identification. Reports state that the special forces unit that killed bin Laden also performed the biometric identification on his body themselves, and the US government didn’t stop there: they used DNA stolen from bin Laden’s dead sister to do a full-on DNA check.

That’s right, between measuring his eyes, face, fingers, and finally getting down into his DNA and matching it with his sister’s, the US would have been able to confirm, with absolute certainty, that they had their most wanted man.

Associated Press sources suggested the administration will release documented proof of bin Laden’s death “soon”.

Hitchens: Pakistani Military Knew Where Osama Was

Christopher Hitchens is coming out and saying what most writers and officials have only been hinting at: the Pakistani military knew that Osama bin Laden was hiding in that neighbourhood in Abbottabad. These upscale areas of towns like Abbottabad are considered some sort of vacation spot for Pakistani military officers, apparently. This is common knowledge in the region, as evidenced by The Times of India‘s unrelenting focus on the government of Pakistan’s apparent complicity.

From the Hitchens article:

If you tell me that you are staying in a rather nice walled compound in Abbottabad, I can tell you in return that you are the honored guest of a military establishment that annually consumes several billion dollars of American aid.

Hitchens takes it as “smoking-gun proof of official Pakistani complicity with al-Qaida”.

From the BBC:

Farzana Shaikh, Royal Institute of International Affairs: ”Many people around the world are going to find their worst suspicions confirmed — that there has been, right from the outset, complicity on the part of the Pakistani state in aiding and abetting Osama bin Laden.”

The Times of India is also reporting that Obama may stop aid to Pakistan over the bin Laden incident, an example of India’s ongoing attempts to draw attention to the problems of the US co-operating with the Pakistani government. The Times claims no sources close to the US administration, but the annual $1b in aid the Americans have been giving Pakistan was ostensibly for counter-terrorism operations (all relating to bin Laden and Al Qaeda).

Abbottabad

It seems fairly unlikely that the Obama administration will take a harder line with Pakistan when their utmost goal should be extracting US forces from Afghanistan without leaving disorder in the region. Pakistan’s government prevents a dangerous power vacuum next to Afghanistan, and has been exceptionally cooperative for a conservative Islamic state where anti-American sentiment is rife. That said, the decision regarding whether US-Pakistan cooperation will decrease, increase or remain constant will be interesting and open to much speculation.

Why Did They Dump bin Laden in the Ocean?

Osama bin Laden buried at seaWhen Obama announced that Osama bin Laden’s body had been buried at sea (apparently, he would have been submerged inside a steel casket with holes in it) a lot of people (and few, if any, major media outlets) questioned the logic of throwing away the evidence of bin Laden’s death. In Slate, Brian Palmer explains the likely rationale for disposing of the body in this way, and it makes a lot of sense.

Palmer describes the dilemma that Germany experienced in dealing with the remains of Hitler. His remains were dug up and re-buried repeatedly to avoid his grave becoming a shrine for neo-Nazis. When you think about it, there is no way that the US should have let something similar happen with bin Laden’s remains. Obviously, there were discussions over the last 10 years within government agencies about what to do with bin Laden’s remains if and when he was killed. So why not cremate him, as has been done in the past? This is against sharia law and, although Muslim scholars are now saying that he should not have been buried at sea, I don’t think we are presented with a better option. Bury him and he inspires his followers in death. Burn him, you anger conservative Muslims.

Why Burial at Sea?Disposing of the body immediately put an immediate close to bin Laden’s chapter in American history. Government officials have been quoted saying, “we don’t want a bunch of people going to a shrine for him”. It has also been speculated that they likely would not have tried to capture bin Laden alive, because of the inevitable side-show of putting him on trial. It’s a fact of human psychology that we associate movements and organizations with a leader, and we do this to a fault. We often think a leader, like the President of the US, or Osama bin Laden, have a greater impact on the larger events in which they are agents. This is a consequence of a bias called the fundamental attribution error. This doesn’t mean bin Laden’s death is less significant; it makes it more significant. It has  been said ad naseum that perceptions play a huge role in the fight against Islamic terrorism. This is without a doubt a blow to the perception, in every part of the world, of Al Qaeda’s strength.

More details from the Washington Post.

Also interesting on Slate:

“Obviously, the operation that was successful did not require the military occupation of a nation,” said Tom Andrews, the former Maine congressman who directs Win Without War. “It required good intelligence. It required the capacity to execute a precision-based operation. And it demonstrates the sort of precision needed to fight terrorism. This is coming on the eve of the decision of the president to do an accelerated transition from Afghanistan.”