Posts Tagged ‘War on Terror’

Good find from the Guardian:

When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, they eschewed most modern technology, including television and music players.

But in the latest sign of the hardline movement’s rapprochement with at least some areas of the modern world, the Taliban have embraced microblogging.

Their Twitter feed, @alemarahweb, pumps out several messages each day, keeping 224 followers up to date with often highly exaggerated reports of strikes against the “infidel forces” and the “Karzai puppet regime”.

Most messages by the increasingly media-savvy movement are in Pashtu, with links to news stories on the elaborate and multilingual website of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, as the Taliban’s shadow government likes to style itself.

On Thursday, the feed broke into English for the first time, with a tweet about an attack on police in Farah province. “Enemy attacked in Khak-e-Safid, 6 dead,” read the message.

There is not much lively banter between the “emirate” and its Twitter followers, save for a cheerful “asalam alekum” sent last week to the Kavkaz Centre, a militant news site covering jihad in the Caucasus.

Don’t be surprised if military and intelligence officials are now trying to figure out how to get them to use foursquare

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) has looked at the photos of Osama bin Laden’s body and has described them on the record.  Based on his account, it seems like pretty gruesome stuff:

In an interview with The Atlantic Wire after he returned from the CIA headquarters, Inhofe described the photos he saw. He said he was shown 15 photos. A dozen of those were taken at the Abbottabad compound and appear to be “taken right after the instant he was shot.” They sound gruesome. They show a massive head wound in the ear and eye. “The brains were coming out of his socket,” Inhofe said. But he said three other photos were taken on board the ship before bin Laden’s sea burial. In these, the body has been cleaned up and Inhofe, who has advocated releasing the photos, said, “It’s much more reasonable to show the public these photos.”


The Washington Post reports intelligence officials have found Bin Laden’s handwritten and electronic journals as part of the intelligence treasure trove recovered during the Abbottabad raid. The article is well worth reading in full, but here’s an excerpt:

Osama bin Laden was preoccupied with attacking the United States over all other targets, a fixation that led to friction with followers, according to U.S. intelligence officials involved in analyzing the trove of materials recovered from the al-Qaeda leader’s compound.

In handwritten journals and long-winded compositions saved on computer hard drives, the officials said, bin Laden always seemed to be searching for a way to replicate the impact of al-Qaeda’s most devastating strike.

He exhorted followers to explore ways to recruit non-Muslims “who are oppressed in the United States,” in the words of one official — particularly African Americans and Latinos — and to assemble a plot in time for the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

First of all, from a historical perspective, those journals will probably be a fascinating read. If they are ever released by the U.S. government, I’m sure someone like Peter Bergen would have a field day with that material and crank out another book or two. I’m currently reading “The Osama bin Laden I Know,” which is a fascinating first-hand oral biography of OBL collected from people who have met and dealt with him over the years that was published in 2006. Obviously, a lot has happened since then… It would be interesting to compare this (and Bergen’s previous book, Holy War, Inc.) with what’s in the journals. Hopefully with the passage of time and a few FOIA requests, some of this material can see the light of day for journalists and historians to study.

Second, if the account about OBL’s idea to recruit African Americans and Latinos to attack the United States is correct, it would show his complete misunderstanding of American society and culture, where immigrants, foreigners, and minority groups tend to assimilate and gain acceptance fairly quickly, in comparison to Europe, where they remain segregated due to social, political, and economic circumstances. That’s not to say that Al Qaeda wouldn’t have been able to find an occasional misguided soul here and there, but if he really believed this would work, he had definitely been drinking too much of his own Kool Aid.

H/T to Chuck Todd for the idea for the title of this post

Update: ProPublica has more details about the contents of the Bin Laden documents. Although it’s unclear as to what stuff is from journals and what isn’t, the whole thing is worth a read. Big surprise: bin Laden himself personally vetoed an offer from Al Qaeda’s leader in Yemen to let Anwar al-Awlaki take over, because he knew and trusted the Yemeni and didn’t want to change the status quo. If this is accurate, it will probably lead to a reassessment by experts of Awlaki as a viable option to succeed bin Laden and lead al Qaeda.

After being kept in the dark about the Bin Laden operation until after it was over, Pakistani government officials have complained that they should have been involved or informed. The ISI – Pakistan’s intelligence agency – has been especially embarrassed by this entire episode, considering that they should have known Bin Laden was living in hiding on their soil for at least five years.

Then again, if this is the ISI’s idea of operational security and secrecy regarding a high-value target, the administration won’t have too much difficulty justifying its decision to keep Islamabad out of the loop:

Pakistan’s military intelligence organisation has confirmed that the leader of the Taliban group is hiding in the west of Pakistan’s Quetta city, reports say.

A senior Pakistani intelligence official has said the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) will step up a huge operation to detain or kill the Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister during his visit to China said the death of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan could end up helpful to Afghan peace process.

After the death of Osama Bin Laden in the garrison town of Abbottabad, the country’s military intelligence agency has been planning to detain or kill the Taliban leader.

Some reports suggest the ISI has already launched a hunt-down operation in Quetta city of Pakistan.

Regardless of accuracy, imagine if this story had been about Bin Laden rather than Omar. U.S. government officials would be howling about it for weeks.

A couple of my friends/Georgetown classmates had good articles published recently I thought I should share here.

From Phillip Padilla (sharing a byline with my former professor Daniel Byman), this article published in Slate about how the Bin Laden operation could have gone wrong.

From Adam Elkus, who blogs over at Rethinking Security, this article about military raiding published in The Atlantic.

Both are well worth taking the time to read.

During a background briefing happening now at the Pentagon, a senior intelligence official showed reporters five videos of Osama bin Laden that were recovered by Navy SEALs during the raid on the Bin Laden compound last week.  The videos will be released to the media after the briefing at some point in the next few hours.

According to a quick readout on air from CNN’s Charley Keyes a little while ago, the videos show Bin Laden in a wool cap and blanket on a rocking chair watching TV coverage of himself.  Other videos are practice takes of his videotaped statements.   CNN’s Barbara Starr also pointed out that U.S. officials have removed the audio from the videos before their release, so that they can’t be used for possible propaganda value.

Stay tuned…

Update: The Pentagon fed the five videos, which are now being dissected by every news organization on the planet. Inevitably, #TVShowsBinLadenWatched started trending on Twitter.

In the immediate aftermath of the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed, one of the key questions asked by journalists and policymakers was about Pakistan’s complicity – or the lack thereof.  At the center of this political firestorm is Pakistan’s military and intelligence services, a key domestic political constituency. The Pakistani people and the press are now asking themselves the same uncomfortable questions that were asked about the CIA’s assessments of Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent WMDs: did we get it wrong because of incompetence or because we knew about it and looked the other way?  A secondary question, and perhaps bigger in terms of domestic politics, that has emerged in Pakistan: how did American helicopters loaded with Navy SEALs fly into Pakistani airspace and carry out a 40-minute raid without anyone in the national security apparatus noticing?

The fact that the most wanted man in the world was found living in a suburb of Islamabad approximately three hours outside of Islamabad, where he had been living for years within walking distance of a police station and the Pakistani equivalent of West Point is absolutely astounding. It disproved the conventional wisdom that he had been hiding out this entire time in caves in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. A Pakistani official familiar with information provided by one of Bin Laden’s wives said that before Abbottabad, the Al Qaeda leader and his family had been living in a village 40 kilometers away near the city of Haripur from as far back as 2003.

Given what we now know about how and where Bin Laden was living makes a decade’s worth of denials from Pakistani leaders ring hollow. However, somebody in the American intelligence community suspected something long before the chilling of U.S.-Pakistani relations of the recent past and last Sunday’s raid. Bill Maher recently dug up a clip from his show from October of 2008 in which then-CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour said “I just talked to somebody very knowledgeable. She doesn’t think, this woman who is in American intelligence, thinks that he’s [Osama bin Laden] in a villa, a nice comfortable villa in Pakistan, not a cave.”

The criticism and second-guessing of Pakistan has been blistering and relentless since last Sunday. Steve Coll wrote, “The initial circumstantial evidence suggests… that bin Laden was effectively being housed under Pakistani state control.” President Obama’s counterterrorism adviser John Brennan told reporters, “I think it is inconceivable that bin Laden didn’t have a support system in the country that allowed him to remain there for an extended period of time.”

It’s worth keeping in mind that Bin Laden is not the only senior Al Qaeda member to have been caught in an urban area of Pakistan. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libi were apprehended in Rawalpindi and Mardan, respectively, with Pakistani involvement in both operations.

Unfortunately for the Pakistanis, their long track record of denials about Bin Laden’s presence in their country, and the “double game” played by the government – supporting the U.S. effort against Al Qaeda, while at the same time supporting the Taliban and the Haqqani network – means that the burden will be on them to prove that they didn’t know.  This essentially forces them to prove a negative, something which is very difficult to do effectively and beyond dispute.

Pakistan’s intelligence service is already in full-blown damage control mode.  ISI chief Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha is heading to Washington to offer explanations.  The Daily Beast recently reported that Pasha may step down as the government’s fall guy over the Bin Laden intelligence failure.  Pakistan’s embarrassment over the Bin Laden episode may give the United States some political and diplomatic leverage in the short term – perhaps in the form of renewed pressure for actionable intelligence on Mullah Omar or Ayman al-Zawahiri. Expect the U.S.-Pakistan relationship to remain frosty at least until the Pakistanis are able to convince the Obama administration and Congress that they didn’t know Bin Laden’s whereabouts.  However, if evidence emerges that people in the Pakistani government knew about his location and withheld that information from the United States, it will be a whole new ball game.

Update: More Bin Laden raid fallout on the Pakistani domestic political front…  Lawmakers are calling on President Asif Ali Zardari and other senior government officials to resign.

Update II: Apparently part of the ISI’s CYA effort is outing the identity of the local CIA station chief in the Pakistani media.

Update III: Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington, sent out a tweet shooting down the story: “NO, The Nation just ran made up name 4 CIA Stn Chief in I’abad in made up story abt DG ISI’s travels.”

The Times of India puts the whole mess into context.

Update IV: Correction. A previous version of this inaccurately referred to Abbottabad as a suburb of the Pakistani capital city of Islamabad. According to Google Maps, Abbottabad is approximately 70 miles to the north. Thanks to Huffington Post reader Kazim Nawab for pointing that out.

googleearthdrones

Memo to U.S. military and intelligence agencies: Make sure you block or filter satellite images on Google Earth of your Predator drones when they’re sitting around on a runway in Pakistan.