Wednesday, May 25, 2011
The media have not raised so far several important questions about Usama bin Ladin, nor have Americans provided any evidence to give answers.
Let us take them up.
Did the American helicopters really come from Afghanistan?
Not at all. If they did, they would have been exposed within minutes. It never occurred to the great investigative minds in the media, here and abroad, that another radar system is also in place that covers every square kilometer of the country and never sleeps. (Air Force radars are fully active only when a war starts or a war-like situation arises. When Indians intended to raid Hafiz Saeed’s complex near Muridke in the aftermath of the Bombay attacks, they had to change their mind when they found that our planes were ready to hit back the moment Indians crossed the border.)
The air control system of civil aviation monitors all aircraft. Any plane or helicopter entering our territory has to submit its flight plan to get permission. Any intruder, such as a hijacked plane, is reported and air force jets scramble immediately. If American helicopters tried to go ahead without permission, our fighter planes would have forced them down to ground or back to their Bagram base.
The claim that the helicopters were not visible to radars is false. Even if the two HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters were supposedly invisible Stealth type, what about the two CH-47 Chinooks that are always very much visible? (They helped in relief work after the earthquake in Azad Kashmir.)
The helicopters actually flew from the NATO base near Tarbela. From there, the distance to Abbottabad was less than 10 kms, only a few minutes away. After returning from Abbottabad, the helicopters flew to Bagram, as normal flights from NATO base to Bagram.
Najam Sethi, of Geo, reported the same night that helicopters flew from Tarbela. (If he cannot get facts from the Americans, nobody else can.) Sethi contradicted himself the next night, not because he was wrong but presumably, because the admission would have led to a shrill demand that NATO must be asked to leave Tarbela.)
Did the helicopters remain unnoticed during the operation?
No. It was just not possible. There were four helicopters, one pair for operation and another for backup. Their rotors were running all the time during the 40-minute operation. They made a lot of noise, even the Stealth type. Their lights were also shining in the moonless, pitch-dark night. The neighbors did notice them. So did the authorities, who are reported to have placed a security cordon immediately around the Usama house and asked people to stay away.
Could the U.S. stop the destruction of its helicopters by our air farce?
It is difficult to believe Obama’s claim that he had given "instructions to engage” PAF fighters, if attacked. It just seems to be an afterthought to shore up people's morale.
Usually two fighter planes scramble to engage intruders. Suppose our planes engaged the helicopters when they were close to Abbottabad and destroyed them. What could the 20 aircraft, including F-18 Hornets, supposed to be flying in Afghan space, do to stop our fighter planes? Even if they were able to destroy the two PAF fighters, the mission against Usama would have failed and Pakistan would have found it impossible to cooperate further with the U.S. in Afghanistan. The cost would have been too high for the U.S.
Were the U.S. helicopters really invisible to our radars?
If U.S. claims that its planes were ready in Afghanistan to engage our fighters, it proves that the helicopters were not invisible to radars and thus were vulnerable to attack.
In any case, American helicopters were not very invisible. According to Aviation Week, an authoritative publication on such matters,"… it is believed that a helicopter cannot yet be made as radar-stealthy as a fixed-wing airplane, as helicopters generally operate at low altitude and against ground clutter." (See http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/generic/story.jsp?channel=defense&id=news/awst/2011/05/09/AW_05_09_2011_p22-318890.xml&headline=null&next=10
Moreover, the claims of defense contractors (in this case of helicopter makers) are not always accurate. The manufacturer of Patriot missiles made a lot of propaganda about their effectiveness during the first invasion of Iraq in 1990. The reality later turned out to be quite different.
Meanwhile, is it not ironical that the country that could build a $60-million Stealth helicopter, did not find a pilot to operate it properly?
How long did Usama stay in Abbottabad?
There is no proof, no evidence whatsoever that the stay was for six years. The house was built six years ago but that does not mean Usama was the only occupant since then. Amal, Usama’s third wife, is reported to have said that the family lived there all those six years. CIA does not have even common sense, not to speak of intelligence, if it believes that she was telling the truth. (Incidentally, to cover the earlier period, she also said that the family stayed for over 2½ years in a village near Haripur, when no villager saw any stranger living there during that period.)
CIA has no idea how shrewd women are in this part of the world. A police party raided the home of a wanted criminal in a remote village. To get him time to escape, his wife took off her clothes, sat under a hand pump in the courtyard and shouted, “Don’t enter the door. I am taking a bath.” By the time her “bath” was over, the husband had run away from the back of the house.
If Usama’s wife had said that the family had been there only for a few months, there would have been incessant questions about all of earlier stays. Giving the details of all previous stays truthfully would have exposed al-Qaida supporters all the way. Does it make sense that she would betray her husband’s faithful followers?
It is also inconceivable that Usama could depend entirely on a single courier to run his organization for so many years. Suppose he was killed in an accident, was abducted or was arrested for some reason. How could Usama find someone to replace him? Advertise in newspapers? (Incidentally, CIA now recruits agents through newspaper advertisements.)
CIA is quite dumb to insist that Usama stayed so long in Abbottabad without providing any supporting evidence. Blaming us for his “long stay” is sheer bullying.
Was it not possible for Usama to have Internet and mobile phone?
Singapore Computer Bureau prepared a database for motor vehicles about 20 years ago. The bureau head explained proudly to a visitor that the entire data was now available to investigate theft and other crimes. “How do you access the data?” the visitor asked. “By entering the license plate number,” he replied. “What if the plate had a fake number?” The head was speechless. It had never occurred to him that fake plates were quite common and data should be accessible also by entering chassis number, engine number, etc.
CIA experts are no better. If somebody bought a laptop, got a wireless Internet connection and, after passing through several hands, the computer ended up with Usama, how could they find out the ultimate user? Similarly, somebody in a faraway place could buy mobile SIMs, which are dime a dozen, activate them and pass on to Usama. Usama could use a SIM just once and then destroy it. How could CIA locate him?
The story about Usama’s courier having been traced through a mobile phone does not make sense. He could not be stupid enough to use a SIM more than once and that too in Abbottabad.
Even if Arabic phone calls were recorded, CIA could not have made much use of them. The U.S. agencies already have phone call recordings of hundreds of thousands of hours in the languages of our region, waiting to be transcribed (to be done only by U.S. citizens for security reasons). By the time, their transcription is completed, all al-Qaida agents would have died natural death.
It is also astonishing that Americans could not locate a satellite dish receiver in the Usama house that was getting Arabic channels most of the time. There could not be many such dishes in Abbottabad, or even the entire country. When the U.S. National Security Agency claims to tap even a landline phone anywhere in the world, what was so difficult in following a digital signal from a satellite to a receiver? Even the satellite with most Arabic channels, Arabsat, was quite well-known.
Was Usama really killed in Abbottabad?
It was quite possible to immobilize Usama with a stun gun or something else, arrest him and take him away. It may well have happened, at least for some time, though he would have to be killed quite soon, as nothing remains secret in the U.S. for long.. (Iranian President says that Usama was alive “for some time.”) Americans certainly needed Usama to know all about his organization and plans. (That was why they left his wives and children behind, who were the next best source of information.)
So far, the U.S. has not provided incontrovertible evidence to prove his death. It was not difficult to get a lookalike, kill him and disfigure his face to make it difficult to identify him clearly.
Secrecy leads to doubts and suspicions. Questions about the final hour of Usama will always remain there. The live video feed from the Abbottabad operation to CIA headquarters and then to the White House could also be given to CNN for the whole world to watch. There would have been still many ifs and buts but most people would have been satisfied about the authenticity of the operation.
There is, however, no doubt that Usama was very much there with his family because it is inconceivable that he would leave them unprotected, without his own reliable guards being present. He would have allowed his wives and children to go to his home country if he believed they were not safe with him. Most probably, he believed he would be soon on his way to Yemen along with his family (as I suggested in my earlier article, “Usama’s plan that went awry” (see below).
Sunday, May 08, 2011
Time had come for Usama bin Ladin to decide his future course. The Taliban were no longer likely to return to power, nor were Americans able to have a military victory. If they failed, the Americans could go for Plan B: withdraw combat troops but leave substantial force (as in Germany, Japan and Korea) in the newly built bases around Afghanistan. He could no longer remain safe in Afghanistan, nor could he move to Pakistan because he did not foresee a sympathetic government there in near future.
Where could then he go to live? Chechnya was no longer a choice because the Russians had overwhelmed the liberation movement. Moreover, the land journey would be hazardous, with Russian informers crawling all over the land and Americans watching from the sky. Somalia had his followers but there was no government with effective control to protect him. Sudan would be better but it might ask him to leave any time under the U.S. and Saudi pressure, as it did in 1996.
Yemen was the best bet. As it was the country of his father, he could expect full loyalty and protection from his tribe. President Ali Abdullah Saleh was an American stooge but not strong enough to make life difficult for him. His departure could make things better. Al-Qaeda was already quite active there.
Moreover, he could operate through his followers in Saudi Arabia, where his war against the Americans started in the first place. He could also get financial support from sympathizers in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Gulf. Communication with his men would be quite easy, even if through couriers.
How could he get to Yemen? He could not charter a plane on his own, as he did while coming to Afghanistan, and the sea route would be quite visible to American satellites. He needed help and he could get it only from Pakistan, where Islamic brotherhood was very strong. He decided to approach Inter Service Intelligence.
The process took quite some time. In intelligence operations, nobody takes anything on its face value and suspicion prevails for long before some trust can develop. It would take time and verification at every step before trusting couriers and middlemen. Then there were various levels on both sides. After months of negotiations, with couriers and cut-off contacts taking messages back and forth, the ISI finally agreed to bring Usama from his hideout in Afghanistan to a safe place.
Elaborate logistical arrangements had to be made. Usama’s large entourage, including bodyguards, just could not accompany him, to avoid exposure. Nor could he take any arms with him, as ISI was going to protect him. There was a secluded and secure house in Bilal Town, Abbottabad, where al-Qaeda people would stay for some time before moving on, under watchful eyes of ISI. The house was vacated and Usama, along with his closest family members, was brought in complete secrecy early this year.
The promise to Usama was to help him in going to Yemen. It was easier said than done. Then there were other issues. All possibilities and options were discussed in detail at the highest level:
a) Keep Usama alive, hidden somewhere. Why? We shall have to protect him all the time. If exposed, as it would happen inevitably, how could we explain to the world that we harbored him? Americans would be very furious. We would end up losing a lot but gaining nothing.
b) Send him off in a chartered plane. Taking him through the Islamabad airport would be very hazardous, even if a foreign carrier was used. In July 1970, Henry Kissinger flew to Beijing from there. Despite strict secrecy, the Pakistani stringer for The Daily Telegraph, London, while strolling at the airport, found out about it and immediately filed a report. (It was another story that his editors, too incredulous to believe him, spiked the biggest scoop of the decade.) Anybody could alert Americans to get the reward. Moreover, a chartered plane flying to Yemen will raise eyebrows: what would it be carrying as cargo or passengers? (We do not have much trade or relations with that country.)
c) How about using a military plane? It may be easier at this end but anything could happen at Sana’a. After recognizing him, the security personnel there would be keen to hand him over to Americans.
d) Why not announce his capture? We may get praise worldwide but Americans would be very unhappy. Denying them something to gloat about would mean trouble.
e) Why not just kill him? It would enrage most Muslims worldwide, especially in our own country. Wherever we buried him would become a holy shrine. The result will be much more violence and hatred against us for a long time. Call of revenge from his supporters here and abroad will mean unending trouble.
None of the options turned out to be attractive. Then, why not bargain with the Americans? (Usama was, after all, not a friend of Pakistan. In fact, we would have been much better off if he had left Afghanistan immediately after 9/11.) They would be ecstatic. In return, we could gain a lot.
The final decision was to offer him to Americans. They were told, “We have got him. How do you want him, dead or alive?” They jumped with joy.
“What will be in it for us?” we asked.
“Anything you want,” they assured.
A deal was struck. The U.S. agreed to most of our terms. The agreement is secret for the time being but developments in near future would be in accordance with it. Some of our major problems will be solved with American help, such as political and economic chaos, internal terrorism, Indian role in Kashmir and Afghanistan. If Americans do not betray us, that is.
Americans asked only for the glory of getting Usama in their own way. That would be fine with us because it would allow us to deny any involvement in the operation and avoid backlash from our own people and Muslims elsewhere. (If the operation were to be in an army town deep in the country, every sensible person would understand that it would have been impossible without our full support.) There would be sharp criticism against us in the U.S. and elsewhere, and doubts would be raised here and abroad about our capability. We can live with it. In such situations, silence is golden.
A unit of Navy SEAL practiced a raid on a house built in the U.S., similar to one in which Usama was living. SEAL (SEa, Air, Land) is a force of the U.S. Navy for special missions. It was chosen for a special reason. President Obama did not want to involve any army unit in Afghanistan because that would have allowed Gen. David Petraeus to take credit. (Petraeus has ambition to become the Republican candidate against Obama in presidential election next year.)
Despite much preparation, Americans lost a helicopter due to mechanical failure. If they had somehow lost the other one too, they would have asked us to rescue them and take them back to their base. So much for the capability of the biggest military machine in the world.
Finally, the U.S. had its day. It did what it does best: defeating a defenseless enemy. (America has never attacked any country that had even a minimal ability to hit back. It invaded Iraq and Afghanistan but will never attack Iran or North Korea.)
Usama’s time was over. After some daring acts in the early days, his people, after 9/11, only provided excuses to Americans to cause immense harm to Muslims, especially us, while, under an unholy understanding, not exploding even a cracker in the U.S. itself so that it does not hunt him vigorously. Usama is a hero to the enemies of America but a villain to those who suffered because of him.
Rather than facing death as a valiant mujahid, Usama decided to run away from it. Instead of a final open clash with Americans at a place of his choice, with world cameras recording his last glorious moments, he wanted to leave secretly for Yemen. He wanted to go across the Arabian Sea to save his life but, as the luck would have it, ended up at its bottom.