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What Pakistan knew about bin Laden

May 3, 2011

The New Yorker, 2 May 2011: Now that Osama is dead, the most intriguing question is this: Did any Pakistani officials help hide him?

We’re entitled to ask. Ever since 9/11—indeed, even before—Pakistan’s military and intelligence services have played a high-stakes double game. They’ve supported American efforts to kill and capture Al Qaeda fighters, and they have been lavished with billions of American dollars in return. At the same time, elements of those same military and intelligence services, particularly those inside Inter-Service Intelligence, or the I.S.I., have provided support for America’s enemies, namely the Taliban and its lethal off-shoot, the Haqqani network. American officials are fully aware of the double-game, and to say it frustrates them would be an understatement. For a decade, Pakistan’s role has been one of the great unmovable paradoxes of America’s war.

Could Pakistani officials have helped hide Osama? The most obvious fact of Osama’s hideaway is that it was in a densely populated area, many miles from the Afghan border region that for years had been the focus of the hunt. This, by itself, is not remarkable: Since 2001, most of the senior leaders of Al Qaeda captured in Pakistan have been nabbed in cities: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Rawalpindi, Ramsi bin Al-Shib in Karachi, Abu Zubaida in Faisalabad.

There is no evidence that any of the above men were sheltered by Pakistani officials. Indeed, since 2001, the double-game has usually worked like this: While Pakistani officials may covertly support the Taliban, they have bought cover for themselves by coöperating with the United States against Al Qaeda. Read more…



May 2, 2011

Abu Muqawama, 2 May 2011: Some of this blog’s readers have probably been checking to see if I had any reaction to last night’s news, and I apologize for not writing anything until now. I received the news about the death of Osama bin Laden via a text from my cousin Jon, on terminal leave from the Marine Corps but here in Washington, and ten minutes later we were together in the bar — in plenty of time to watch the president’s announcement. Before long, we were joined by several other veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, and folks at the bar were buying us all drinks. (My cousin Jordan, who lives in Fort Worth but for whom Jon and I might as well be brothers, even tracked us down and called the bartender, remotely ordering us two shots of Maker’s Mark.)

We went around, all of the veterans, each of us naming friends we had lost. I offered up Joel Cahill’s name, and then that of Joe Fenty. I thought of the wives and young daughters those two men left behind, and I thought of so many more men and women who I never got the chance to know but who have given their lives since 2001.

I had told myself for years that the death of Osama bin Laden would not mean anything. Decapitation campaigns against sophisticated, mature terrorist networks, I knew, rarely yield strategic effects. But standing in that Washington bar, I was overcome with emotion.

This is a tremendous moment for the United States, and everyone from the president on down deserves the highest praise.

Osama bin Laden killed in U.S. raid, buried at sea

May 2, 2011

The Washington Post, 2 May 2011: Osama bin Laden was buried at sea Monday after U.S. forces raided his well-appointed hideout in Pakistan, shot him in a firefight and spirited his body out of the country aboard a helicopter, U.S. officials said.

The death of the long-hunted al-Qaeda leader, who had eluded intensive U.S. efforts to capture or kill him after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks he ordered, triggered warnings Monday that his radical Islamist network or sympathizers could try to retaliate against Americans or U.S. interests.

It also served, U.S. officials said, to send a message to the extremist Taliban movement fighting to make a comeback in Afghanistan, where it had harbored bin Laden and al-Qaeda before being driven from power by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in November 2001. The message: give up hope of defeating U.S. and NATO forces, renounce al-Qaeda and join the political process.

Bin Laden was killed early Monday in Pakistan (Sunday afternoon in Washington) in what officials described as a surgical raid by U.S. Navy SEALs on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, a garrison town 72 miles by road north of the capital, Islamabad.

In a rare Sunday night address from the East Room of the White House, President Obama said a small team of U.S. personnel attacked the compound, where bin Laden had been hiding since at least last summer. During a firefight, the U.S. team killed bin Laden, 54, and took custody of his body in what Obama called “the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al-Qaeda.” Read more…

The Secret Team That Killed bin Laden

May 2, 2011

National Journal, 2 May 2011: From Ghazi Air Base in Pakistan, the modified MH-60 helicopters made their way to the garrison suburb of Abbottabad, about 30 miles from the center of Islamabad. Aboard were Navy SEALs, flown across the border from Afghanistan, along with tactical signals, intelligence collectors, and navigators using highly classified hyperspectral imagers.

After bursts of fire over 40 minutes, 22 people were killed or captured. One of the dead was Osamabin Laden, done in by a double tap — boom, boom — to the left side of his face. His body was aboard the choppers that made the trip back. One had experienced mechanical failure and was destroyed by U.S. forces, military and White House officials tell National Journal.

Were it not for this high-value target, it might have been a routine mission for the specially trained and highly mythologized SEAL Team Six, officially called the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, but known even to the locals at their home base Dam Neck in Virginia as just DevGru.

This HVT was special, and the raids required practice, so they replicated the one-acre compound. Trialruns were held in early April. Read more…

Osama Bin Laden Is Dead

May 2, 2011

This blog doesn’t usually chase breaking news, but for this we make an exception…


The Wall Street Journal, 1 May 2011: Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is dead, and the U.S. has his body in its possession, U.S. officials said late Sunday.

A person familiar with events said Mr. bin Laden had been killed by the U.S.

President Barack Obama will make the announcement late Sunday at the White House.

The development capped a manhunt of more than a decade for the architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that left 3,000 people dead and dramatically altered U.S. foreign policy and the nation’s sense of security.

Although Mr. bin Laden was not thought to be a critical operational leader of Al Qaeda, he had been the worldwide symbol of the terrorist network.

Because he has been so difficult to find for more than a decade, the killing of Mr. bin Laden is a major victory for Mr. Obama, who demanded an aggressive expansion of Predator drone strikes in Pakistan.

In a recent book on Mr. bin Laden, Michael Scheuer, former chief of the Central Intelligence Agency’s bin Laden unit, wrote that the al Qaeda leader’s goal was to attack the West, and then to move on to Arab states and Israel, but that “he has given no indication that he expects to live long enough to finish the job.”

Instead, Mr. Scheuer wrote, Mr. bin Laden “has anticipated a war of attrition, one that might last decades,” so he began passing the torch to younger al Qaeda activists.

President Barack Obama will make the announcement late Sunday at the White House.

The development capped a manhunt of more than a decade for the architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that left 3,000 people dead and dramatically altered U.S. foreign policy and the nation’s sense of security.

Federal investigators in Detroit mine Facebook for crime info

April 26, 2011

The Detroit News, 25 April 2011: Federal investigators in Detroit have taken the rare step of obtaining search warrants that give them access to Facebook accounts of suspected criminals.

The warrants let investigators view photographs, email addresses, cellphone numbers, lists of friends who might double as partners in crime, and see GPS locations that could help disprove alibis.

There have been a few dozen search warrants for Facebook accounts nationwide since May 2009, including three approved recently by a federal magistrate judge in Detroit, according to a Detroit News analysis of publicly available federal court records.

The trend raises privacy and evidentiary concerns in a rapidly evolving digital age and illustrates the potential law-enforcement value of social media, experts said.

Locally, Facebook accounts have been seized by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and FBI to investigate more than a dozen gang members and accused bank robber Anthony Wilson of Detroit.

“To be honest with you, it bothers me,” said Wilson, 25, who was indicted Tuesday on bank robbery charges after the FBI compared Facebook photos with images taken from a bank surveillance video. “Facebook could have let me know what was going on. Instead, I got my door kicked down, and all of a sudden I’m in handcuffs.”

Federal investigators defend the practice. “With technology today, we would be crazy not to look at every avenue,” said Special Agent Donald Dawkins, spokesman with the ATF in Detroit. Read more…

Go After Qaddafi

April 26, 2011

Slate: 25 April 2011: The embarrassing failure of NATO’s strategy with the Libyan “rebels” is easier to understand when it is contrasted with its closest parallel case, which is probably that of Kosovo. After Slobodan Milosevic had attempted to cleanse the province of its Albanian minority, and after it had finally become clear to the governments of NATO that he had completely ceased to be a thinkable “partner for peace,” a bombing campaign against Serbian units and positions began. To answer those who doubted that aerial strategy alone could do the needful job, it was pointed out that insurgent forces of the Kosovo Liberation Army, operating on the ground, would take their cue from the bombing and work in coordination with it. Those who didn’t like this policy used to sneer that it made us “the air force of the KLA.” And this sneer, as it happens, was more or less accurate. (I well remember one Kosovar militant crudely rejoicing in the sudden appearance of friends in the sky, and saying that it enabled his comrades to “fuck Milosevic with Clinton’s dick”—an arresting image in any context.)

There were other crude things about the KLA as well, such as its sidelines in smuggling and even trafficking, and its lack of tenderness toward Serbian civilians. But it was a genuinely rooted guerrilla force with real knowledge of the terrain and the society, and it had evolved out of a decade-long struggle of wholesale passive and civic resistance under the leadership of Ibrahim Rugova. There were clannish and tribal elements involved in the ranks, inevitably for that region, and I have never seen so much ammunition fired pointlessly into the air as at a KLA rally in the mountains. But the outfit could fight sure enough when it came to it, and the option of restored rule of Kosovo by Belgrade had by then joined the list of things that were no longer feasible or thinkable. As the attrition intensified, military and political logic more and more dictated that the bombing switch to the source—Milosevic’s “command and control” in his capital city. It wasn’t long before he was raving and ranting in the dock, where he had long belonged. Read more…

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