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.)

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