Sunday, May 08, 2011

Usama’s plan that went awry -- A scenario

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.

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