Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The Death of Bin Laden?

On the 2nd May, the media in the United Kingdom and probably most of the world, reported the death of Osama Bin Laden, America's most wanted man for nearly 10 years now.  He was reportedly killed the day before as the result of a US Military raid on a 'luxury' house in Abbottabad, some 35 miles north of the Capital of Pakistan, Islamabad.

In the UK, we awoke to the news and the speech given by the US President, Barack Obama.  The President gave a brief description of what happened and how Bin Laden was killed as the result of a covert raid made by US Special Forces.  The Pakistani government were not informed and were not aware of the raid until it had happened.  Fortunately, there were no US lives lost considering that the chances for a 'blue on blue' encounter must have been high.

The death of Bin Laden sparked a media frenzy in the UK.  Some of them were even embarrassed by showing a photograph of a dead Bin Laden that was later found to be a fake.  However, therein lies one of the first things I will query, the fact that there have been no photographic evidence of his death.  Obviously the conspiracy theorists have jumped on board the band wagon and claims that Bin Laden is not really dead have ensued.

This article will pursue some of the questions now being asked.  Why was Bin Laden buried at sea?  Why have there been no pictures of the dead Bin Laden?  How was he able to hide in Pakistan without the authorities knowing?  I hope to address these and some others.

Bin Laden has been America's most wanted man for many years now.  After fleeing Afghanistan and eluding the attempts by the coalition forces to capture him, the US have been very single minded in pursuing him.  It was believed that he was hiding in the mountainous region of Waziristan, bordering Afghanistan and a known Pashtun tribal region.  Locating anyone in this region of Pakistan is very difficult for numerous reasons including tribal loyalties.

The fact that Bin Laden was found in a town near the Pakistani capital came as a surprise to many.  Apparently the house did not have internet or telephone connectivity and came under suspicion by American intelligence agencies.  Possible but not probable.  The chances are that it was brought to the attention of an intelligence agency, through whatever means and further information gathering ensued.  That notwithstanding, however he was found it would have been hard to believe unless verified by other sources.

The plan to attack the house was bold and telling at the same time.  Bold in the way that the US were perfectly happy to invade a sovereign territory without so much as a 'by your leave'.  Notice I said bold and not surprising.  America, no matter what the rhetoric, obviously do not trust Pakistan and not without good reason.  The Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI, has long been linked to the extremists although the media phrase it as 'murky dealings'.  Not only that, I doubt that the Americans trust the Pakistani government as much as they tell the public.  In most cases, allies do not carry out operations on another ally's soil, but this has never stopped the Americans in the past.  Even Britain, who are supposed to have a 'special relationship' with America have experienced that.  America, however, obviously believes it has the right to ignore international law whenever it suits them.  Let's face it, they are a superpower and who is going to stop them?

I will, however, tip my hat to the personnel that carried out the operation.  A covert operation can very easily go wrong because someone pops up at the wrong time and then everything goes to pot.  The fact that there was a Pakistani military compound not too far away from the target location would have been a factor on their minds.  Fortunately, the mission was a success and nobody was lost.  Apart from Bin Laden.  Allegedly.

According to the officials, Bin Laden was buried at sea.  Does this not strike anyone else as odd?  When Saddam was captured his picture was plastered everywhere.  Even when his sons, Qusay and Uday were killed, the grisly pictures were shown, just to prove that they were dead and gone.  However, America's most wanted man just fades into oblivion?  I doubt it very much.  However, to counter that argument, showing a picture of a dead Bin Laden could incite more fervour in his martyrdom.  It's swings and roundabouts in this case.  Personally, I don't think showing a picture of the dead Bin Laden is going to lessen the fact that the extremists are going to hail him as a martyr.  The fact that he may have hidden behind his wife like a coward will not change anything.

The conspiracy theorists have latched onto this like a Rotweiller that hasn't eaten in a week.  Is this just propaganda by the US?  Did the US President want the case closed before the tenth anniversary of the horrific attack in New York?  There are bound to be many more.  I don't consider myself one of these fruitcakes but I do have a supposition.

First we will need to go back a few years to the good old days of the Cold War.  In the days when the East faced the West, 'spies' were prolific.  Their covert activities spawned many fictional characters and just as many media stories.  In this covert war, it wasn't unusual for people to change sides.  Defections from east to west and vice versa made the headlines and sometimes led to the death of the defector.  This leads me onto my supposition.  If you wanted to keep a defector secret, you faked his or her death.  It happened numerous times, mostly by the west so they could garner more valuable intelligence from the defectee.  The problem with defecting publicly is that once the opposition knows, all the secrets the defector may know become compromised and damage limitation occurs.

So, consider this.  Although Bin Laden is technically a figure head for al-Qaeda, he is held in very high regard and is privy to information any intelligence agency would sell their grandmothers for.  Not only would he know cell leaders, quartermasters and the like, he may even know of some future operations.  If he does know of future operations, his capture alive would compromise them and those involved may scrap or even change their plans.  His death, however, ensure that whatever he knows dies with him.

It is common knowledge that former KGB agents who were allegedly killed have been found alive and well.  How great a leap is it to consider that Bin Laden was captured and is now on his way to his new home in some ultra high security location with a very small room and white noise as a background?  Just because the President of the United States stood up in front of a camera and said something does not make it the truth.  The Americans have already experienced that and even in American law, there is no proof of death unless there is a body.

The Pakistani government has come under increased scrutiny as a result of this incident and are probably embarrassed by it.  Questions will be asked about how much did they really know, if they knew anything at all.  It is probable that this incident will have further strained the already tense US/Pakistan relationship and I can only foresee further deterioration unless one party does something significant.  That, however, is unlikely and Pakistan may become isolated in its position.  Already add odds with its neighbour, India, the last thing we need now is another nuclear power becoming anti-western.  America has to accept a proportion of the blame, too.  Although its motives may have made sense to the powers that be, they would have known how it would play out for Pakistan.  If, indeed, Pakistan was compliant in assisting Bin Laden then they deserve no less, in my opinion.  If they were not, then this is an unfortunate blow that could have been avoided.

As an aside, let's address the arrogance of America - not necessarily its people (although many would support their country's actions without thought) but its government and associated agencies.  America has long believed that what it does is for the good of all.  It is that arrogance that is going to cause a serious problem some day.  A perfect example would be the al Qaeda plot to use liquid bombs on trans atlantic aircraft.  The plot involved another prominent al Qaeda member, Rashid Rauf, who resided in Pakistan.  British intelligence had uncovered a plot involving a number of radicalised britons and a plan to use liquid explosives.  They informed the US intelligence agencies and kept them abreast of developments.  However, the US became nervous as it became apparent that the time of the planned attack was fast approaching.  The British were confident that nothing could happen until certain things happened, like the purchase of airline tickets.  Not happy with the British and not trusting their ability to contain the situation, the then head of the CIA, Director Hayden made a visit to Pakistan.

The whole operation hinged on the extremists in Britain contacting the al Qaeda member, Rashid Rauf in Pakistan.  It was not pure coincidence that during Director Hayden's visit to Pakistan Rauf was arrested.  This forced the British into premature action that could have compromised the whole case and wasted a lot of work, money and man hours.  Fortunately the arrests were made but no thanks to the Americans who deny that there were any disagreements during the operation.  As an aside, Rauf escaped custody and remains free to conduct other operations.

I am sure that America means well, but a common saying is that good intentions pave the way to hell.  Considering I don't believe in hell, let's replace it with a horrendous mistake.  As it is, a prominent al Qaeda member is free to plan additional attacks, which brings me nicely onto ramifications.

There is little doubt that Bin Laden will be name a martyr, but not just an ordinary, run of the mill martyr.  His 'death' will no doubt inspire others, but the same could be said for him while he was alive.  Extremist will have another excuse for their despicable actions, but they had plenty of those anyway.  Will their be an increase in the threat to Americans and Europeans?  The threat was already extant and I doubt it will change.  What could happen is the change of time-tables or random, unplanned and uncoordinated attacks.  These are harder to predict and will, naturally, be a media headline with the blame falling on the various intelligence agencies and links to Bin Laden's 'death'.

No matter what has happened to Bin Laden, I hope that he really has been removed from the playing field.  Whether he is alive or dead means little in the overall scheme of things aside from the fact that useful information could be gained from him.  The man was a ruthless and vile individual who considered innocent men, women and children legitimate targets for violence.  His twisted preaching of the Koran was an insult to Muslims who, like us, abhorred the things he did in the name of Islam.  It is unfortunate that his removal will change nothing and extremist will continue to scheme but at least we know that a man with no empathy or compassion is no longer able to flaunt his ability to avoid justice or to cause anymore harm to anyone else.

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