Sunday, September 10, 2006

Sunday's 'Stone Cold' Pakistani Denial

When I wake up on Sunday I expect to read the latest Pakistani denial about a US media report.

Even if it comes before you get the chance to read this lengthy Washington Post article entitled Bin Laden trail 'stone cold,' make sure you take the time to read every word and not just rely on the excerpts that are about to follow, because Dana Priest and Ann Scott Tyson have one helluva story here.

Excerpts that focus on Pakistan's role with regards to the "stone cold" trail:

The clandestine U.S. commandos whose job is to capture or kill Osama bin Laden have not received a credible lead in more than two years. Nothing from the vast U.S. intelligence world -- no tips from informants, no snippets from electronic intercepts, no points on any satellite image -- has led them anywhere near the al-Qaeda leader, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials.


Intelligence officials think that bin Laden is hiding in the northern reaches of the autonomous tribal region along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. This calculation is based largely on a lack of activity elsewhere and on other intelligence, including a videotape, obtained exclusively by the CIA and not previously reported, that shows bin Laden walking on a trail toward Pakistan at the end of the battle of Tora Bora in December 2001, when U.S. forces came close but failed to capture him.

Many factors have combined in the five years since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to make the pursuit more difficult. They include the lack of CIA access to people close to al-Qaeda's inner circle; Pakistan's unwillingness to pursue him; the reemergence of the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan; the strength of the Iraqi insurgency, which has depleted U.S. military and intelligence resources; and the U.S. government's own disorganization.


The Pakistani intelligence service, notoriously difficult to trust but also the service with the best access to al-Qaeda circles, is convinced bin Laden is alive because no one has ever intercepted or heard a message mourning his death. "Al-Qaeda will mourn his death and will retaliate in a big way. We are pretty sure Osama is alive," Pakistan's interior minister, Aftab Khan Sherpao, said in a recent interview with The Washington Post.


A Muslim country where many consider bin Laden a hero, Pakistan has grown increasingly reluctant to help the U.S. search. The army lost its best source of intelligence in 2004, after it began raids inside the tribal areas. Scouts with blood ties to the tribes ceased sharing information for fear of retaliation.

They had good reason. At least 23 senior anti-Taliban tribesmen have been assassinated in South and North Waziristan since May 2005. "Al-Qaeda footprints were found everywhere," Interior Minister Sherpao said in a recent interview. "They kidnapped and chopped off heads of at least seven of these pro-government tribesmen."

Pakistani and U.S. counterterrorism and military officials admit that Pakistan has now all but stopped looking for bin Laden. "The dirty little secret is, they have nothing, no operations, without the Paks," one former counterterrorism officer said.


Pakistan will permit only small numbers of U.S. forces to operate with its troops at times and, because their role is so sensitive politically, it officially denies any U.S. presence.

If this next part's true, then it would be good (but I seriously fucking doubt it):

McChrystal, who has commanded JSOC since 2003, now has the authority to go after bin Laden inside Pakistan without having to seek permission first, two U.S. officials said.

"The authority," one knowledgeable person said, "follows the target," meaning that if the target is bin Laden, the stakes are high enough for McChrystal to decide any action on his own. The understanding is that U.S. units will not enter Pakistan, except under extreme circumstances, and that Pakistan will deny giving them permission.

Again, read the rest of Tyson and Pulitzer-winning Priest's latest at this link.

In case you missed it...

(...and I'm sure you did because it isn't scheduled to air on ABC this weekend...)

CNN reported late Friday that "one-eyed Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who heads the religious militia fighting U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, is living in Pakistan, though not in the same area where al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is thought to be, according to a U.S. intelligence source."

Excerpts from CNN's report:

The elusive Taliban leader is believed to be in Quetta or its environs, a city of one million that is the capital of Baluchistan province in southwestern Pakistan.

The intelligence source said of Mullah Omar's location: "At one point we had it down to a particular section of Quetta."


U.S. officials have been saying for some time that another of the world's most wanted men -- Mullah Omar's close friend and advisor, bin Laden -- is believed to be in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area, and the intelligence source who spoke of Mullah Omar offered a specific location for bin Laden, as well.

The source said that bin Laden is likely in Bajuar, a sparsely populated remote tribal region on the northern Afghan-Pakistan border, bordering Chitral. That is a region that a U.S. military intelligence official has identified to CNN in the past as a strong possibility for the location of al Qaeda's leader.

There is no mention of Bajuar in Priest and Tyson's "cold trail" story, and I'm not saying that this means anything, but the last intelligence that tied together Bajuar and al Qaeda didn't turn out so good.

From a Newsweek article published in January:

U.S. officials don't want to act rashly—especially in remote Pakistan, where American forces are not supposed to be operating. But, says former White House counterterror official Roger Cressey, "you've got to take that shot." So when a U.S. surveillance team got a tip that Al Qaeda's long-hunted No. 2, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, and fugitive Taliban chief Mullah Mohammed Omar were at a house in a village in the Bajur tribal region, the United States pulled the trigger. An unmanned Predator drone tracked the guests, then fired six missiles, destroying three houses and killing at least 18 people.

U.S. counterterror officials were optimistic last weekend that Zawahiri, or possibly another Qaeda big shot, had been there. But the Pakistani government said no, and locals and officials interviewed by a NEWSWEEK reporter who traveled to the distant village, Damadola, said the Americans acted on bad info. "I personally saw the 18 victims," Parliament member Haroon Rashed, who lives about a mile away, told NEWSWEEK. "Most of them were women and children. They were all locals. There were no foreigners."

Anyway, like clockwork, on Saturday, Pakistan already denied CNN's story.

CNN reports:

Taliban leader Mullah Omar is not hiding in Pakistan, a Pakistani military official said, disputing a Friday CNN report that he called "ludicrous."

Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan said he is "quite certain" Mullah Omar is in Afghanistan. The CNN report, he said, is "baseless."

"These reports are ludicrous because we haven't got any evidence of the presence of Mullah Omar in Pakistan over the past many years," Sultan said. "We are quite certain that Mullah Omar is not present in Pakistan and that he is present inside of Afghanistan."

Sultan was reiterating a statement released earlier by the Pakistani government, which said there was no evidence that Mullah Omar was in Pakistan and that the news report was a "baseless and concocted story and nothing but mere figment of reporters' imagination."

The fact that "such sensitive information" turned up on the news rather than official channels "is a good enough indication that it is nothing but an effort to create sensation, and has no reality," the statement said.


If there were "actionable intelligence" that bin Laden is in Bajuar, "we would certainly go for him," [Sultan] said.

To be continued, basically, when Pakistan says so.


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