The CIA may have focused its war on al-Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal badlands, but the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden exposes the limits of drone strikes and the need for Islamabad to broaden intelligence in cities.
Abbottabad, the garrison town where bin Laden may have lived in secret for years, is just the latest city with a strong military presence that some of al-Qaeda’s most-wanted have called home.
The three-story compound where bin Laden lived with three wives and 13 children is hundreds of kilometers from the Afghan border areas where the CIA last year doubled drone attacks in the war to defeat al-Qaeda.
“The tribal belt was in the eye of the storm,” said Pakistani analyst Imtiaz Gul, who has written a book about the region. “This was the bull’s eye.”
“I personally never thought he was alive and if he would be recovered it would be from some cave. This has been a master deception that bin Laden created,” Gul said.
Pakistani security officials say they are investigating whether bin Laden lived in the compound for five years, as his Yemeni wife — who was shot in the leg during the operation — has claimed.
The New York Times quoted Pakistani investigators as saying that she also said the family lived for nearly two-and-a-half years in a small village, Chak Shah Mohammad, near the main highway. That would mean bin Laden left the tribal belt in 2003 and had been living in northern urban regions for more than seven years.
“When you’re trying to escape from Afghanistan, the first place you enter is the tribal area,” tribal affairs expert Rahimullah Yusufzai said. “But I think when they found out that those areas are so much under surveillance, it’s not easy to stay there for long periods.”
“There are security checkpoints over there, strangers are easily identified among the tribes and there are drone attacks and occasional Pakistani military operations, so in a way they are under more surveillance on a day-to-day basis,” Yusufzai said.
Bin Laden was not the only al-Qaeda leader tracked down to Pakistani cities, which unlike the tribal belt, are under direct government control. In 2002, his close confidant, Abu Zubaydah, was arrested in Faisalabad, one of Pakistan’s most moderate cities, a place known more for its textile industry than its association with global terrorism.
An alleged plotter of the Sept. 11 attacks, Ramzi bin al-Shaiba, was arrested in Karachi, also in 2002, and in 2003, the self-confessed mastermind of Sept. 11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was held in Rawalpindi, the city headquarters of Pakistan’s military.
In 2005, al-Qaeda No. 3 Abu Faraj al-Libbi was tracked down to Mardan and Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, wanted over the Madrid and London bombings, in Quetta.
These arrests were made by or in conjunction with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency — unlike the bin Laden killing — which Pakistan and Washington say was purely a US operation.
US officials say that finding bin Laden in Abbottabad, home to the country’s top military academy, raises serious questions about whether Pakistani intelligence agents helped protect him.
Pakistan denies complicity. Pakistani officials say the perfect cover would have been to melt into one of Pakistan’s heaving cities, where millions live on top of each other.
A security official said efforts were being stepped up to set up vigilance committees in all major cities to keep a check on who is buying, selling and occupying houses.
Pakistani military operations, US aerial surveillance and CIA missile attacks in the tribal belt have increasingly made cities such as Lahore, Karachi and Faisalabad more attractive places to hide, some experts believe.
US missile attacks doubled last year, with more than 100 drone strikes killing more than 670 people last year.
Yusufzai said the drone campaign was not effective and should be reviewed: “Mostly, you have killed people who are not really your enemies — low-level, unknown people, faceless people, foot soldiers. I can count on my fingers how many known people have been killed.”
However, Christine Fair, assistant professor at Georgetown University and a South Asian terrorism expert, said the drone war was misunderstood in Pakistan and was effective in eliminating al-Qaeda operatives.
EVOLVING SITUATION: Of the latest cases, 23 percent were found to be asymptomatic, but the coronavirus strain in Da Nang is more contagious, authorities said A COVID-19 outbreak that began in the Vietnamese city of Da Nang more than a week ago has spread to at least four city factories with a combined workforce of about 3,700, state media reported yesterday. Four cases were found at the plants in different industrial parks in the central city that collectively employ 77,000 people, the Lao Dong newspaper said. Vietnam, praised widely for its decisive measures to combat the novel coronavirus since it first appeared in late January, is battling new clusters of infection having gone for more than three months without detecting any domestic transmissions. Authorities yesterday reported one new
‘COVIDIOTS’: Politicians condemned the protest that came amid surging infections in the country, while a marcher said government-induced fear weakened the body Loudly chanting their opposition to masks and vaccines, thousands of people on Saturday gathered in Berlin to protest against COVID-19 restrictions before being dispersed by police. Police put turnout at about 20,000 — well below the 500,000 organizers had announced as they urged a “day of freedom” from months of virus curbs. Despite Germany’s comparatively low toll, authorities are concerned at a rise in infections over the past few weeks and politicians took to social media to criticize the rally as irresponsible. “We are the second wave,” shouted the crowd, a mixture of hard left and right and conspiracy theorists, as they converged
Three Micronesian sailors stranded on a remote Pacific island have been found alive and well after a rescue team spotted their giant SOS message written into the sand on a beach. Australian and US military aircraft found the three men on tiny Pikelot island, nearly 200km west of where they had set off. Rescuers said that the men were “in good condition” with no significant injuries. The men had been missing for three days after their 7m skiff ran out of fuel and strayed off course. Authorities in the US territory of Guam raised the alarm on Saturday after the men failed to complete
A cat that went missing on a family holiday on the shores of Loch Lomond, Scotland, has been identified 12 years later. Tortoiseshell-and-white Georgie spent October half term in 2008 with her owners at the Rowardennan campsite, but vanished as they were due to return home to Greater Manchester, England. After a search of the site the Davies family departed without Georgie, hoping the three-year-old microchipped feline would be located by someone. Over the intervening 12 years, she remained close to the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park site, being fed and cared for by campsite staff and holidaymakers. After the COVID-19 pandemic hit and lockdown