Michael KreponOsama

Abbottabad is a quiet, lovely city. The Stimson Center convened a Track II workshop there for rising Pakistani strategic analysts. The city’s most prominent feature is Kakul, the Pakistani military academy where outstanding recruits begin their studies and service careers. On April 23rd, the Pakistani Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Kayani, visited Kakul to congratulate recent graduates. According to press accounts of the Army Chief’s remarks, Kayani claimed that Pakistani security forces “have broken the back of terrorists and the nation will soon prevail over the menace.” Kayani also asserted that the Pakistan Army “was completely aware of internal and external threats to the country.” Osama bin Laden’s compound was a mile away from the parade ground where Kayani spoke.

Pakistani authorities must be feeling acute embarrassment and resentment at this juncture: embarrassment at Osama’s presence within Pakistan, despite numerous official denials of this possibility, and resentment at a severe breach of Pakistani sovereignty in a settled area. Had U.S. special forces and intelligence failed in this effort, the repercussions on U.S.-Pakistan relations would have been horrific. Having succeeded in bringing Osama bin Laden to justice, the repercussions are extremely trying but not grounds for a divorce. Pakistan’s civil authorities have put a positive gloss on Osama’s death, pointing to longstanding and oft-repeated U.S. statements that, if the location of al-Qaeda’s leadership were correctly ascertained, military action would result. That Pakistan’s security apparatus appears to have been kept in the dark speaks volumes about the growing difficulties of this partnership.

As a reflection of his competence and Pakistan’s extremely troubled internal and external security environment, General Kayani received a three-year extension by the current Pakistani civilian government. The Director-General of Inter-Services Intelligence, Lt. General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, has received two one-year extensions. The presence of Osama bin Laden near Kakul reflects very poorly on both of them. The number two ranking al Qaeda figure, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the worst offenders of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, are widely believed to be on Pakistani territory.

Hard times lie ahead for U.S.-Pakistan relations. Our interests in Afghanistan diverge as well as converge. Groups that engage in violent acts against U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan and against targets in India are based, trained and equipped on Pakistani soil, without serious interference by Pakistan’s security apparatus. It is more far more convenient and popular for Pakistani politicians to rail against U.S. drone strikes than against extensive Muslim-on-Muslim violence within their country.

Osama bin Laden’s violent demise comes at a time when U.S. expenditures in Afghanistan are reaching the half-trillion dollar mark. It is far from clear that the tactical achievements of U.S. forces there can result in long-lasting gains. It is even more apparent that Pakistan loses by being a safe haven for violent extremists. Osama’s death provides an opportunity for Pakistani and U.S. authorities to reconsider the sources of their deeply troubled relationship.

Note to readers: This piece has also been posted on the Stimson Center’s website.

Comments

  1. Anon (History)

    Did OBL attend the Track II workshop? 😉

    That OBL was in Abbottabad is a “feature” of the drone program.

    Since the drones were so “successful”, high value targets clearly thought (think) the best place to hide was (is) Pakistani military cantonment areas where the drones would never think of hitting.

    There is a reason that robots will not replace soldiers.

    btw, Coll has a good review:

    http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2011/05/notes-on-the-death-of-osama-bin-laden.html

  2. Allen Thomson (History)

    > Osama bin Laden’s compound was a mile away from the parade ground where Kayani spoke.

    Going by a picture provided by the Guardian(*), ObL’s house was at 34.16935 N, 73.24253 E. I note that the Google Earth image showing it is dated June 15, 2005 and the NYT says the house was built that same year.

    GeoEye tasked the Ikonos-2 satellite to take a picture of the area at 10:55 2 May 2001 local time (05:55 GMT), so hopefully we’ll be seeing some confirming imagery in the near future.

    (*) http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/Guardian/documents/2011/05/02/BINLADEN_COMPOUND_LARGE_0305.pdf

  3. Andy (History)

    The Pentagon released some imagery and diagrams of the compound today:

    http://abcnews.go.com/images/Politics/Graphics%20for%20background%20briefing.pdf

  4. bert (History)

    A couple of points

    Pakistan, well at least some high authority in Pakistan must have known that OBL was in residence in this military controlled town.

    Second, The US land in the middle of a garrison town, crash a helicopter, set off explosions etc and no-one comes out to investigate. And this is a garrison town. Of course the Pakistanis were aware of what was going on beforehand.

    Conclusion, the Pakistanis gave OBL to Obama, probably in exchange for some secret deal on drones, aid or India.

    • joshua (History)

      They arrived all of a sudden in the dead of night and were there only 40 minutes. It takes awhile for the cavalry to arrive.

      Besides, it would have been in the interest of the Powers That Be in Pakistan to make this a joint operation, had they had that choice.

    • FSB (History)

      Clearly the Pak’s were “complicit” in helping the US:

      http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/05/02/the_lies_they_tell_us?page=full

      and clearly, the killing is just a blip on the long road that started in WW I:

      http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2011/0502/Osama-bin-Laden-is-gone-but-US-war-in-the-Middle-East-is-here-to-stay

      The (current) “American Way of Life” will probably need to change in the long run, for a number of reasons.

    • John Schilling (History)

      It is unclear to me what interest the Pakistani army or government would have, in being publicly seen to be involved in a joint operation of this nature. Where Pakistani domestic politics are concerned, that would seem to be equivalent to, e.g., President Obama calling in a UN paramilitary force in black helicopters to help take down a ring of US anti-abortion terrorists. For generals and politicians interested in keeping their jobs (and in Pakistan, their heads), the rational choices would seem to be doing it entirely themselves or denying all knowledge.

      OTOH, the American raid as described is incredibly audacious – akin to planning a bank robbery in Quantico on the grounds that, hey, it’s 3:00 AM, the FBI academy is fully half a mile away, and you won’t stick around for more than half an hour after the shooting starts. And in this case, approximately the same objective could have been achieved at much less risk by using a simple JDAM.

      Prior knowledge of the operation by at least some elements of the Pakistani Army, with a promise to keep their local forces out of the fight, is not the only possible explanation for the observed facts. But it is a highly credible one, and the alternatives raise their own questions.

    • Scott Monje (History)

      Regarding the JDAM option: The helicopter raid, while risky, had distinct advantages. It allowed the commandos to take the body as evidence that he was really dead, to grab documents and computer files, and to avoid the deaths of dozens of kids living at the site.

    • Allen Thomson (History)

      > And in this case, approximately the same objective could have been achieved at much less risk by using a simple JDAM.

      Apparently a pair of B-2s dropping some number of 2,000 lb GBU-31s was one option proposed. That didn’t fly because the neighborhood is somewhat built up (Google Earth now has an image from May 2010) and the possibility of blowing up innocent bystanders too great.

    • John Schilling (History)

      The body count from a commando raid gone bad is also quite substantial, see Somalia 1991. And from Google Earth the Bin Laden compound seems to be within heavy machine gun range and very nearly within line of sight of Kakul – it might only have taken one junior officer with a clear head, a bit of initiative, and something fifty-caliber to have turned this into a “Black Hawk Down” scenario.

      Given the range of intermediate options between Seal Team 6 and GBU-31, the raid as described seems excessively dangerous for both the Seals and the locals – unless the Seals were to surrender in the face of serious local opposition, itself problematic. Grabbing computers and documents is a legitimate plus for the commando plan; retrieving the body rather less so given that we didn’t keep it.

      Possibly it was seen as worth the extra risk. But I am very open to the possibility that it was less risky than it seems, for reasons diplomatically edited out of the press releases.

    • joshua (History)

      There have been joint U.S.-Pakistan operations to capture AQ figures in Pakistan before. It’s much less offensive to Pakistani sovereignty, for one thing. The way this raid happened is maximally embarrassing to the Pakistani authorities, at several levels. It’s pretty much the worst-case scenario.

      It seems to me that some observers seriously underestimate the abilities and determination of the Joint Special Operations Command.

    • Scott Monje (History)

      “. . . retrieving the body rather less so given that we didn’t keep it.”

      Under Islamic law, the body must be buried within 24 hours. Presumably, they did that, and did it in accordance with Muslim burial rituals, as evidence that the war against terrorists isn’t a war against Islam. At the same time, it prevents others from burying him and creating a shrine. I suppose that’s not the same as taking it “as evidence” since they probably could have taken a quick swab at the scene for DNA tests, yet I would think even having it for a day should have had some benefit for taking pictures or doing further tests.

    • Nick Nolan (History)

      Most likely scenario is that White House dialed Islamabad minutes after attack started and told them what was going on. Attack lasted 40 minutes, troops send to investigate could have been on their way when they received message from Islamabad that they have to stand down.

  5. Amir (History)

    The only thing that bothers me is that how a person like Ben laden could made an obvious mistake like this? Obliviously, if you are going to live in a compound like that sooner or later you will be discovered. It is not just rational to make an easy target of yourself. Therefore there are two possibilities: 1-Pakistani’s put Ben laden there (even in a kind of home arrest) to use him later 2-The story was something different, but authorities give us this cleaner version.

  6. Andrew Tubbiolo (History)

    When you look at events and what kind of information was sitting in front of who’s face one has to ask either this is the shadow of someone acting in a cunning way, or this is the net effect of many foolish decisions. As I watch the ‘war on terror ™’ transpire I think more and more that for the most part large groups of people bungle through history via a endless set of foolish decisions thinking all along that they are the smartest people in the room because everyone is telling them that. Perhaps Donald Trump is not so far down the ladder of human leadership as we might think. Perhaps he just has a harder time hiding it.

  7. Gregory Matteson (History)

    Several of the above comments seem to me to fall to one of the common fallacies of conspiracy theory; which is that everything is planned and controlled by someone, and that “important stuff” is well consistently well thought out. Human beings are ornery, and not terribly rational in general. It is quite possible that OBL thought his cover was sufficient, and I’d bet he was certain the US would not and could not carry out a commando raid within the inner circles of Pakistani security. There are very few examples in history of commando operations being carried out this cleanly and successfully. What should give everyone pause for thought about the future of security is that the US could by force of will carry out such an operation. It is also, in my opinion yet another sign of the passing of even cursory observance of the fading fiction of national sovereignty.

    • Anon (History)

      FYI: Aljazeera is reporting that ISI was surveiling the location since 2009 and told the CIA about it since that date. So not exactly a conspiracy theory but close. Further, they report that OBL was unarmed yet still shot and killed.

      [Just reporting what they are reporting.]

    • Anon (History)

      Dawn (reliable Pak. newspaper) says bodyguard may have killed OBL, in line with instructions:

      http://www.dawn.com/2011/05/03/was-osama-killed-by-us-troops-or-his-own-guard.html

  8. Scott Monje (History)

    “That Pakistan’s security apparatus appears to have been kept in the dark speaks volumes about the growing difficulties of this partnership.”

    I wonder if anyone could comment on a rumor that I heard. According to this, some U.S. officials believe that the two Pakistanis shot by Raymond Davis, the CIA security contractor, were in fact ISI operatives out to get him. The idea would have been to express ISI’s disapproval of a CIA operation being carried out behind their backs. It does seem to be rather a sick relationship.

    • Anon (History)

      Not ISI operatives ‘out to get him’: but ISI “tails”.

      i.e. low level ISI folks who follow foreign operatives. Common Intel stuff. They should have hidden themselves better.

      Yes, it is the most likely explanation.

  9. Anon (History)

    Transcript of the “narrative” on the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound that Jay Carney, the White House Press Secretary, just read to reporters in Washington:

    “……There was concern that Bin Laden would oppose the capture operation and indeed he did resist. In the room with Bin Laden, a woman, Bin Laden’s wife, rushed the U.S. assaulter and was shot in the leg but not killed. Bin Laden was then shot and killed. He was not armed.”

    hmmmm, why kill him when you can capture him?

  10. Andrew Tubbiolo (History)

    There are rather a lot of rumors going about. The event is done. Is there anything to gain by engaging in them? Sometimes there might be, but is there now? Perhaps the thing to do is to let the politicians beat their chest, let the populace get this off theirs, and see what falls out of the intelligence gain, and the political fallout on the Islamist side. No need pumping up the volume, there’s plenty of violence yet to come. Is it not best if we all watch it with a less emotional disposition?

    • Anon (History)

      Yes there is value in getting to the truth. Glen Greenwald has a column on media accuracy.

    • Andrew Tubbiolo (History)

      Yes there is value chasing down the truth. But is that what’s going on? The press is printing whatever the US government tells it as if it were gospel. And let’s face it how many of us are really in a position to talk with the people in involved to get the real story? By that measure I don’t think we’ll ever get the real story. What I see is everyone seeking validation of what they want to believe. Hey, I’ll admit falling into the same trap with that contrail off the California coast. I thought it was an SLBM. I’m just going to stand back and watch this one evolve. We’ll have a much better view in a few months and we’ll probably know what really happened by the outcome of events.

  11. Charles (History)

    “Had U.S. special forces and intelligence failed in this effort, the repercussions on U.S.-Pakistan relations would have been horrific.”

    Just a thought, but maybe this is why they haven’t released photos of him and had the speedy burial at sea: Because they didn’t actually capture him, despite their 99.99% belief they would, and are now trying to save face for such a brazen operation in a key country involved in the war on terror. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but that sounds like a good book…

    • Seb (History)

      That’s a fairly preposterous idea when you think about it.

      All it needs is one Bin Laden video popping up holding an edition of some newspaper and America looks foolish and (more importantly for the administration) an election might be lost.

      There is no way in hell they would announce bin Laden being killed if they were not utterly convinced they had got him.

      If they hadn’t got him, then it wouldn’t be announced in this way, it would be either played down or presented as “a high value al-quaeda target”.

  12. Deep Blue (History)

    You say in your piece “[t]hat Pakistan’s security apparatus appears to have been kept in the dark speaks volumes about the growing difficulties of this partnership.”

    I think this was not the case but part of a two-way cover story for domestic consumption, in order not to inflame further militancy against the Pakistan govt.

    Here is likely what went down: The Pakistanis had OBL under effective house arrest and when it became somewhat clear to the CIA that OBL was there, there was some kind of quid-pro-quo. e.g. less drone strikes for OBL’s body.

    Both sides wanted him out (Pak. less so) but Pak. did not want to take responsibility or found out to be complicit: plausible deniability.

    So the Pakistanis gave a green light for the US to undertake the attack, as long as the US backed them up that they were not told or aware.

    There is no way that the slow US helicopters could fly across virtually all of Pakistan undetected (They dropped the body on USS Vincennes in the Arabian Sea). It could only work if at least some elements of the Pak. military — not necessarily the Pakistani civilian govt — was aware and involved.

    Brennan disclosed that the US was “concerned that if the Pakistanis decided to scramble jets or whatever else… They had no idea about who might have been in there, whether it be US or somebody else,” in what was an implicit reference to India. “So we were watching and making sure that our people and our aircraft were able to get out of Pakistani airspace. And thankfully, there was no engagement with Pakistani forces,” he added. A likely story. The Pakistanis are very sharp and would pick up activities even before the helo’s reached Abbottabad, unless they were in on it.

    So both the US and Pakistani governments are lying to keep Pakistan from blowing up any further.

    Cannot blame them.

    • Mark Gubrud (History)

      My thoughts exactly, though it’s only reasonable guesswork.

  13. FSB (History)

    The intense discussions recently (2 weeks ago in Langley) between top political and military officers on both sides point to an agreement before the raid. The ISI head was just at CIA HQ 10 days or so ago.

    Connect the dots folks.

    • Anon (History)

      Good point. This gets interesting. see:

      http://www.dawn.com/2011/04/13/isi-sought-a-more-formalised-arrangement-relationship-on-solid-footing-cia.html

      “Both sides agreed also to work closely “on our common fight against terrorist networks that threaten both countries”.

      Senior US military officials also attended the meeting with the ISI chief and other Pakistani military officials. Pakistan`s ambassador in Washington, Husain Haqqani, however, did not participate in the talks.

      After the meeting, the ISI chief left abruptly for Islamabad, causing wild speculations in the US capital as both US and Pakistani media had reported that he was here on a three-day visit.

      But Pakistani and US officials rejected these speculations as incorrect, claiming that it was only a one-day visit and Gen Pasha`s departure on Monday evening was part of the official schedule.”

    • Scott Monje (History)

      Nothing personal, but I always get antsy when folks start talking about “connecting the dots.” People tend to come up with a picture that looks a lot like their own preconceptions. Remember, it was connecting the dots that got us into Iraq.

  14. Bernhard (History)

    Naming the final attempt to capture or better, kill the “most hated man second to Hitler” after the first historical figure that comes to mind (and is referred to by WikiPedia) seems to me in extremely bad taste to Native Americans, considering the following quotes:
    “At the end of (Geronimo’s) military career, he led a small band of 36 men, women, and children. They evaded thousands of Mexican and American troops for over a year, making him the most famous Native American of the time and earning him the title of the ‘worst indian who ever lived’ among white settlers.”…”His band was one of the last major forces of independent Native American warriors who refused to acknowledge the United States occupation of the American West”…”Geronimo pleaded in his memoirs that his people who surrendered had been misled: his surrender as a war prisoner was conditioned in front of uncontested witnesses (especially General Stanley). General Howard, chief of Pacific US army division, said on his part that his surrender was accepted as a dangerous outlaw without condition, which has been contested in front of the Senate”.

    So much for “honor amongst soldiers”

  15. Nick (History)

    I won’t waste time refuting the all the conspiracies, but it seems HIGHLY unlikely to me that this one some sort of quid pro quo or that the Pakistanis somehow gave up OBL. Why?

    I could think of myriad other manners in which they could have given him up, with varying levels of US involvement, that would have looked better than this. As Joshua mentioned above, this is maximally embarrassing to the Pakistanis, and is perhaps the worst case scenario for them.

    America’s Enemy #1, hiding in a fortress of a home, within sight of Kakul, 35 miles outside of their capital?

    Do you not think that at some point in time, assuming a “handover” type situation, someone inside the Pakistani government would’ve said “Hey, guys, this might look really bad for us. At best, it involves a degree of unpredictability that we should not be comfortable with.”?

    If the Pakistanis knew and had the desire to turn him over, they could have done so in plenty of other ways that would have cast them in a favorable light and not risk the billions in aid the US Congress sends their way.

    • FSB (History)

      1. uh, a peaceful handover would look REALLY bad for the Pakistani govt. and cause reprisal attacks.

      2. This way “its not their fault” — the bad ol Americans came in and killed him.

      3. OBL was where he was — they cant shuttle him around.

      4. You assume the military and civilian “governments” in Pakistan are on the same wavelength. They are not.

      5. a quid-pro-quo could be for reduced drone attacks.

      Let’s see what (doesn’t) happen…

      As Anon writes above:

      “After the meeting, the ISI chief left abruptly for Islamabad, causing wild speculations in the US capital as both US and Pakistani media had reported that he was here on a three-day visit.

      But Pakistani and US officials rejected these speculations as incorrect, claiming that it was only a one-day visit and Gen Pasha`s departure on Monday evening was part of the official schedule.”

    • FSB (History)

      The aid will not be in risk, as behind the scenes it is clear what really happened — ie. CIA and ISI co-operated.

      Even Boehner now supports continued Pakistani aid. Trust me, the Pakistanis will get the $ as they helped the CIA out. But we cannot let that story out.

    • Nick F (History)

      Why do some people tirelessly reject parsimony?

      The answer must be too simple. The US Government, by its very nature, must be incapable of telling anything but nearly complete fabrications.

      In this case, why is it so difficult to believe that the US intel community and a group of some of the most widely respected special forces soldiers in existence just did what they have spent over a decade and billions of dollars trying to do?

      It just couldn’t be the case. They just couldn’t possibly be that good at what they do. There must be some other explanation.

      I am not claiming to see the full picture here, as none of us should. I am merely suggesting that if Pakistan were complicit somehow in OBL’s killing, they could have done it in a manner that would not lead to them being trashed in the global press as incompetent at best, and harboring the worlds’ most wanted terrorist at worst.

      Of course, it could all be an elaborate charade that has succeeded, at least in my case.

    • FSB (History)

      It was waaaaay too risky an attempt w/o Pak mil cooperation. Think about it.

  16. Gregory Matteson (History)

    Machiavelli would be pleased: It is better to be feared than loved.

    • Seb (History)

      Actually, he said it was better to be both loved and feared if possible, and be sure not to be feared so much as to be hated…

  17. Deep Blue (History)

    There is no way that the (slow) US helicopters could fly across virtually all of Pakistan undetected — at least it is far too high-risk, without Pak mil cooperation.

    Period.

    The civ govt of Pak may well have been in the dark — even about OBL.

    • Anon (History)

      correct. From DAWN, a respectable Pak. newspaper:

      http://www.dawn.com/2011/05/04/reading-between-the-lines.html

      “It is our responsibility to insist that Pakistan was in the loop, because that is the very obvious truth. That is what I am telling my American friends while trying to explain the complexity of the country and situation.

      Anyone who knows and understands Pakistan absolutely realises that the success of this covert mission was impossible without the help of Pakistan. And the reason the mission was unflawed was because there was air, ground and intelligence support by the Pakistanis. Plain and simple.”

    • Kevin (History)
    • FSB (History)

      Kevin,
      a 19 y.o. risking his life is different from the President of the US risking 79 Seals. Yes, 79.

      Please let’s hold some skepticism.

      et see, what could have caused the mission to be a failure:

      – Pakistanis shoot down one or multiple helicopters, killing Americans
      – American SEAL gets shot and wounded/killed in the compound, then the SEALs get bogged down in the compound
      – Osama isn’t even present in the compound
      – The compound houses a rich family, not any terrorists
      – Osama is wounded by escapes, or just plains out escapes
      – En Route home the helicopters crash/get shot down
      – American killed
      – Innocents killed

      ====

      There is NO WAY that the POTUS would risk that without inside help.

      No way.

      See comments by Deep Blue also.

    • Kevin (History)

      FSB – I’d suggest you have some skepticism, yourself. Sometimes governments take extreme risks. 79 Seals, or however many, accept the risk. Um, that’s why they are Seals, and that’s why they and not a 19 yo. was not assigned the mission (that would be a foolish, right? That’s kind of my point).

      And, I don’t think it to be unrealistic to assume POTUS takes that risk, frankly. Not to get UBL. And my point on Mr. Rust is simply that the impossible is indeed possible, even if unlikely.

    • kevin (History)

      bad writing: of course I meant:

      …and that’s why they and not a 19 yo. kid <> assigned the mission…

  18. Scott Monje (History)

    Regarding the assumption that the Pakistani military must have been ordered to stand down or they would have responded within the given 40 minutes: After the fact, when we know it was an important event, we simply assume that important motivations were behind every action, but often confusion, inattention, or incompetence is the best explanation. Remember Korean Airlines Flight 007, in September 1983. The Soviet air force scrambled fighters as it approached the Kamchatka Peninsula, and yet it managed to fly over Kamchatka, the Sea of Okhotsk, and Sakhalin Island–taking some two and a half hours–before they managed to shoot it down. And it wasn’t even trying to evade them. Or the radar crew at Pearl Harbor that saw the Japanese coming but just assumed they were looking at B-17s from California and didn’t report anything.

    • FSB (History)

      That is because they did not want to kill it immediately. Not because they couldn’t.

    • John Schilling (History)

      The assumption is not that the Pakistani military *would* have responded within the given 40 minutes, but that they *could* have – and given the great disparity of force involved, this would have made it insanely dangerous to have conducted the raid as described and without some unspecified means of negating that threat.

      This is not, as some have suggested, to disparage the capabilities of SEAL Team 6 or the JSOC in general. The issue in question is the capabilities of the Pakistani Army and Air Force. With the forces close at hand, the Pakistanis could have utterly ovewhelmed the US forces acknowledged as having participated in the raid. To deploy enough Pakistani firepower fast enough to have turned this into an embarassing, deadly fiasco for the United States, even at 0330 on an otherwise peaceful night, would have required a degree of competence and initiative rather less than superhuman and with extensive precedent in military history.

      That, in hindsight, this did not happen, does not mean that it was not a prior a risk. It was a very real and substantial one, whose consequences could plausibly have included the annihilation of the SEAL detachment, the conspicuous survival of Osama Bin Laden, and/or the deaths of several hundred Pakistani soldiers at US hands. It is possible that President Obama, backed by the US Army, chose to accept this risk. It is not unreasonable to speculate as to what they might have done to reduce that risk, without telling us.

      And in time of war, it is not unreasonable for them to have not told us everything. Even to have lied about some of what they have told us.

    • Deep Blue (History)

      Completely agree with John.

      A priori, the President did not know it would turn out this well — UNLESS, high-level ISI/Pak mil cooperation was in place.

      see:

      http://www.telegraphindia.com/1110504/jsp/frontpage/story_13936650.jsp#

      see also:

      http://afpak.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/05/04/the_bin_laden_aftermath_in_pakistan_many_questions_and_few_answers

  19. Gregory Matteson (History)

    Exact wording varies according to the translation you choose. You can easily google many quote sites that give the short version I gave above. A different truncation of the translation may tamper with the sense; in my opinion the complete context supports “It is better to be feared than loved”

    From Chapter 17, page 60, The Prince, Modern Library Edition of The Prince and Discourses:

    “From this arises the question whether it is better to be loved more than feared, or feared more than loved. The reply is, that one ought to be both feared and loved, but as it is difficult for the two to go together; it is much safer to be feared than loved, if one of the two has to be wanting.”

    • Seb (History)

      I still read that as saying aim for both if you can, actually. This pretty much was global perception of the US in much of the developed world until the brief lurch towards unilateralism.

      And what does the next paragraph in your translation say? I’m pretty sure it should be saying something about trying not to be too feared as to be hated.

      There are important messages there too. Not that I think this particularly applies to the Bin Laden thing, which might well constitute a justifiable exception, were this kind of policy not already approaching the norm (forget about drone vs. commando aspect).

      The general feature of a creeping policy that is normalizing extra-judicial assassinations, drone attacks in foreign countries and a general culture of impunity is pushing the US into a position it probably doesn’t want to be in and may regret in the future. One should be asking whether generally these features are something we would be happy about as a regular part of life (irrespective of which country is doing it), and whether making it normal is really worth it given the threat these guys pose.

      Particularly if the shoe ever ends up on the other foot, so to speak, with say a Chinese government sending people to wonder around and kill it’s declared enemies in other countries, perhaps the US, and trusting to the fact that the US is a debtor nation and labeling dead citizens of other countries “collateral damage”. It’s bad enough with the Russians leaving a trail polonium all over the place, but making this a legitimate action is worrying.

      Quoting from Machiavelli seems too glib response to these kinds of concerns for my taste. Is it better to be loved or feared? There are plenty of regimes in history that were feared so much that they no longer exist.

  20. Nick F (History)

    Yes, we deliberately used stealhy helos, leaving heretofore unrevealed technology on the ground, which will certainly be dissected by Pakistan, and likely shared with China, all because we REALLY didn’t want it to look like the Pakistanis were in on the gig.

    or…

    We risked using this undoubtedly highly classified technology because we needed very low signatures – because the Pakistanis were clueless. Parsimony.

    Sometimes it seems that the crazies of the internet flock to ACW…

    • Deep Blue (History)

      Parsimony also requires that the President have not taken excessive risks.

      Indeed, the internet crazies do flock to ACW.

      Also, apparently they post on FP:

      http://www.telegraphindia.com/1110504/jsp/frontpage/story_13936650.jsp#

      see also:

      http://afpak.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/05/04/the_bin_laden_aftermath_in_pakistan_many_questions_and_few_answers

      “Every retired Pakistani military man I have spoken with thinks that ISI/Army members must have been clued in to the operation or bin Laden’s location, but likely at the most five to ten people were in the know. If the Army knew anything, it was likely only at the highest levels — Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, ISI chief Major General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, and their closest lieutenants — and in that case the suggestion that Pakistan’s government as a whole was somehow “sheltering” bin Laden does not make much sense because Pakistan would have sold bin Laden if they had him to begin with, in exchange for some national respect from the U.S.

      A possible Pakistani pitch to the U.S. could have been: we have bin Laden in our sights; you take him out, absolve us of responsibility, you get the victory, and we don’t have to deal with the militant blowback at home. The continued campaign of drone strikes in the tribal areas compromises Pakistani sovereignty, but a one-time raid may be easier to sell and forget. The issue here is the concern that Pakistan’s double game will leave it with nothing but a backlash from both the international community and the militants. But if you find Osama bin Laden in your own front yard, you don’t really have much room for negotiation.”

      =======

    • FSB (History)

      Your “parsimony”-centric analysis would lead to a waaaaaaaaay too high-risk operations absent Pak. military/intel. co-operation, that is why several people here discount it.

      Please try to understand what we are saying. A sitting POTUS cannot risk it.

      Please don’t call people who have been posting on this blog for years crazy.

      To reiterate, what could have caused the mission to be a failure if there was no Pakistani support:

      – Pakistanis shoot down one or multiple helicopters, killing Americans
      – American SEAL gets shot and wounded/killed in the compound, then the SEALs get bogged down in the compound
      – Osama isn’t even present in the compound
      – The compound houses a rich family, not any terrorists
      – Osama is wounded by escapes, or just plains out escapes
      – En Route home the helicopters crash/get shot down
      – American killed
      – Innocents killed

      ====

      There is NO WAY that the POTUS would risk that without inside help. Not one chance. I can see the headlines:

      “Muslim foreign-born President kills Navy Seals in Bungled Operation overseas”

    • Nick F (History)

      Deep Blue,

      It is easy to characterize the raid as risky – indeed it was. No alternative, however, would allow for definitive confirmation of death AND the enormous intel haul that the SEALs raked in.

      One could choose sides on whether bombing or raiding a country is a greater violation of sovereignty, but I think leaving craters and collateral damage is likely worse. Thats just an opinion.

      FSB,

      By crazies, I was referring to the persistent posters of conspiracy theories.

      And pray tell, why is there NO WAY that a sitting president would take this risk? Because you assert it to be so? To counter your objections:

      – Pakistanis shoot down one or multiple helicopters, killing Americans
      * A risk, yes. Mitigated by the use of stealthy helos, flying nap-of-the-earth, on a moonless night.

      – American SEAL gets shot and wounded/killed in the compound, then the SEALs get bogged down in the compound
      * A risk, yes. Mitigated by training and personnel/technology redundancy.

      – Osama isn’t even present in the compound
      * Possible, but not probable. Thats the purpose of good intel.

      – The compound houses a rich family, not any terrorists
      * A rich family, that burns their trash, doesn’t use the phone or internet, is obsessive about security, and is linked to OBL?

      – Osama is wounded by escapes, or just plains out escapes
      * I take 24 SEALs and the cover of night over a 54 year old dialysis patient any day. Surely, they didn’t go in there without a plan if he were to somehow escape the SEALs and the compound walls.

      – En Route home the helicopters crash/get shot down
      * One did crash, they had backups. Plus they had additional air support, and search and rescue teams on standby. 70+ commandos were in the area, only 25 ever touched the ground.

      – American killed
      * It happens.

      – Innocents killed
      * It happens, too.

      Was it risky? Absolutely! Did the level of risk associated with the operation mean that the Pakistanis just had to be complicit in the raid? Absolutely not.

      Inherent in your posts is a preconceived disbelief that the SEALs just could not have been that good. Or that Obama is simply too risk averse. Why must this necessarily be the case?

      I think that some simply find it unpalatable that CIA/JSOC are sufficiently resourced to do what they will, wherever they will it. They will likely continue to wrap their notions in cherrypicked 3rd-source reporting.

    • Mark Gubrud (History)

      Nick, what is left of your “parsimony” after fending off such a long list of objections to your own theory? I ask myself which is simpler to believe: that the Pakistanis really had no clue bin Laden was there for 5-6 years while the US figured it out from the other side of the world and that this operation was conducted without their OK, or that this was the easiest way for them to give him up while being able to deny both knowledge of his presence and complicity in his betrayal?

      You also accused those of us who at least suspect this of believing that “The US Government, by its very nature, must be incapable of telling anything but nearly complete fabrications.” This is obviously not the case, but the USG has a long enough record of lies, particularly about covert intelligence, military and foreign policy actions, that there is no particular parsimony in believing the official story here.

      That said, I would be interested in your reference on the “stealthy helos,” and any clues as to what the “heretofore unrevealed technology” might be. In any case, assuming this operation was conducted with approval of the Pakistani government and ISI at the highest levels they would still have wanted to minimize the number of alarms set off and needing to be stifled at fairly low levels within the Pakistan military.

  21. FSB (History)

    Exactly right:

    http://afpak.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/05/04/the_bin_laden_aftermath_in_pakistan_many_questions_and_few_answers

    How could bin Laden have been located without Pakistani intelligence?

    Common sense tells us that he couldn’t have been. Even if Pakistan’s government pleads ignorance on all counts, it is inconceivable that the United States could have located this target without some prior form of help from the ISI. And if this is indeed the case, then one has to concede that the ISI would not share intelligence on a terrorist they are secretly trying to harbor.

    Every retired Pakistani military man I have spoken with thinks that ISI/Army members must have been clued in to the operation or bin Laden’s location, but likely at the most five to ten people were in the know. If the Army knew anything, it was likely only at the highest levels — Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, ISI chief Major General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, and their closest lieutenants — and in that case the suggestion that Pakistan’s government as a whole was somehow “sheltering” bin Laden does not make much sense because Pakistan would have sold bin Laden if they had him to begin with, in exchange for some national respect from the U.S. A possible Pakistani pitch to the U.S. could have been: we have bin Laden in our sights; you take him out, absolve us of responsibility, you get the victory, and we don’t have to deal with the militant blowback at home. The continued campaign of drone strikes in the tribal areas compromises Pakistani sovereignty, but a one-time raid may be easier to sell and forget. The issue here is the concern that Pakistan’s double game will leave it with nothing but a backlash from both the international community and the militants. But if you find Osama bin Laden in your own front yard, you don’t really have much room for negotiation.

    In the off chance that the ISI did not play a part in locating bin Laden in Abbottabad, but had some intelligence on him, what would the Pakistani military establishment gain from harboring a man like Osama bin Laden? Is he a “strategic asset” the way the Haqqani network or the Quetta Shura is believed to be? No.

    A main difference between Osama bin Laden and the Quetta Shura or the Haqqani network was that bin Laden did not possess a network of fighters, was not indigenous to the land despite ties cultivated possibly through marriages, and above everything else was more of a symbol of jihad than an operational influence. Pakistani military officials have told me before that the reason why the Haqqanis and the Quetta Shura may serve as assets is because they possess vast networks and will still be around long after the Americans leave Afghanistan. If Pakistan wants to exercise ‘strategic depth’ in what they may assume will be a protracted battle for power in Afghanistan after the U.S. leaves, then they want to back the men whose main interest is power in Afghanistan.

    Bin Laden’s goals were megalomaniacal, stretched over continents, and completely incompatible with the idea of negotiations. The Haqqani network and the Quetta Shura are insurgent groups, or bands of terrorists by most accounts, but potentially both could get their feet in the door for negotiations in Afghanistan. Taking all this into consideration, it is hard to see how Pakistan could have considered Osama bin Laden a strategic asset the way the Haqqani network or Quetta Shura are presumed to be for the Pakistani military establishment.

  22. Seb (History)

    I still read that as saying aim for both if you can, actually. This pretty much was global perception of the US in much of the developed world until the brief lurch towards unilateralism.

    And what does the next paragraph in your translation say? I’m pretty sure it should be saying something about trying not to be too feared as to be hated.

    There are important messages there too. Not that I think this particularly applies to the Bin Laden thing, which might well constitute a justifiable exception, were this kind of policy not already approaching the norm (forget about drone vs. commando aspect).

    The general feature of a creeping policy that is normalizing extra-judicial assassinations, drone attacks in foreign countries and a general culture of impunity is pushing the US into a position it probably doesn’t want to be in and may regret in the future. One should be asking whether generally these features are something we would be happy about as a regular part of life (irrespective of which country is doing it), and whether making it normal is really worth it given the threat these guys pose.

    Particularly if the shoe ever ends up on the other foot, so to speak, with say a Chinese government sending people to wonder around and kill it’s declared enemies in other countries, perhaps the US, and trusting to the fact that the US is a debtor nation and labeling dead citizens of other countries “collateral damage”. It’s bad enough with the Russians leaving a trail polonium all over the place, but making this a legitimate action is worrying.

    Quoting from Machiavelli seems too glib response to these kinds of concerns for my taste. Is it better to be loved or feared? There are plenty of regimes in history that were feared so much that they no longer exist.

  23. Deep Blue (History)

    The most reasonable reading of events — IMNSHO, rather consistent with my hypothesis:

    http://www.telegraphindia.com/1110504/jsp/frontpage/story_13936650.jsp#

    “The Chinese have the best sources in Pakistan, given the all-weather friendship between Islamabad and Beijing.

    Xinhua says electricity was cut off to Abbottabad as the operation to kill Osama began. That shows complicity with the Americans not only within the Army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi but down the line to the local administration that controls the electricity switching stations.

    Xinhua says security forces cordoned off the entire area near Osama’s safe house before the Americans attacked it and no one was allowed to enter or leave the operational surroundings during the attack.

    That only means the Pakistanis knew what was going to take place, although it is only logical that reasons for sealing off the area would not have been communicated down the line to the local police or paramilitary units.

    Xinhua also says residents of Abbottabad took videos and cellphone pictures from their rooftops as the spectacular helicopter landing and firefight was under way.

    But Pakistani security forces went round from house to house collecting memory cards from cameras and seizing videos from residents soon enough so that the pictures were not transmitted freelance by what modern TV would call citizen journalists.

    All this could not have been organised by the Pakistanis after the event, which means, circumstantially, that the killing of Osama was a well co-ordinated US-Pakistani operation down to local ward-level in Abbottabad.

    • Smith (History)

      http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/world/2011-05/02/c_13855324.htm

      If telegraphindia.com is relying on the above Xinhua article as their reference, I would be wary of using it as a reference, as it appears that they have interpreted it fairly loosely. For instance:

      The Telegraph, India:

      “Xinhua says security forces cordoned off the entire area near Osama’s safe house before the Americans attacked it and no one was allowed to enter or leave the operational surroundings during the attack.”

      Xinhua:

      “Xinhua correspondents in Abbotabad said no one was allowed to enter the area where the operation took place and security forces guarding the area refused to answer any questions from the media.”

      Xinhua doesn’t say anything about people not being to enter the area during the operation.

      The Telegraph, India:

      “Xinhua says electricity was cut off to Abbottabad as the operation to kill Osama began. That shows complicity with the Americans not only within the Army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi but down the line to the local administration that controls the electricity switching stations.”

      Xinhua:

      “Eyewitnesses in the area told Xinhua that electricity was cut off in the area during the operation.”

      Note that the conclusion drawn – that the power being cut must indicate some complicity in the matter. I personally find this conclusion to be unreasonable without further information; one could just as easily assume that the power was put offline by the US.

      The Telegraph, India:

      “Xinhua also says residents of Abbottabad took videos and cellphone pictures from their rooftops as the spectacular helicopter landing and firefight was under way.

      But Pakistani security forces went round from house to house collecting memory cards from cameras and seizing videos from residents soon enough so that the pictures were not transmitted freelance by what modern TV would call citizen journalists.”

      Xinhua:

      “Local residents told Xinhua that many of them took videos and pictures when the operation was conducted in the area with their own cameras and mobiles, but the security forces later visited each of the houses in the neighboring area close to the operation and removed all the video and photo records taken by them.”

      Again, no mention of exactly when the media was collected, so they’re drawing their own conclusion to support their own theory.

      This is, of course, based only on the online article I’ve found. If someone has more information from Xinhua, I’d like to see it, because I don’t mind being wrong. The Telegraph of India article smacks of cherrypicking, though.

  24. Gregory Matteson (History)

    I was hardly being glib, perhaps a bit cynical, in citing Old Nick without elaboration. Machiavelli and Sun Tsu are guiding lights of modern statecraft world wide. Cynicism, geo-political calculation, and institutionalized sociopathy are the coin of the modern state. For good or bad, with more or less understanding, Machiavelli and Sun Tsu are guiding lights studied assiduously by future politicians and perpetual students alike.

    • Seb (History)

      But both can be notoriously badly applied when using them as one line justifications for policies.

      Yes, it’s better to be feared than loved, if you can’t be both, because fear more reliably and efficiently deters threats (though that dynamic is more complex in the modern world than in the context of the prince where greater power attatched to individuals than before, and asymetric warfare is a more potent threat, see for example what is going on in the Arab world now), but even in that context it’s caveated with the need for fear not to produce hatred, which of course, motivates people to threaten you.

      Psychology didn’t stop with Machiavelli.

  25. Alex W. (History)

    On another note, I think I’ve made a major breakthrough in “connecting the dots.”

    1. Earlier this week, Osama bin Laden reported as dead, no photos released.

    2. Also earlier this week, the Space Shuttle Endeavor delays its final takeoff. It is set to make its last launch as soon as is possible.

    3. President Obama, quoted yesterday: “The fact of the matter is, you will not see bin Laden walking on this earth again.”

    Very curious expression you used there, Mr. President. Verrrry curious.

    You may now return to your own dot-connecting.

    • Anon (History)

      It is difficult to connect the dots when everyone is lying:

      http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/05/02/the_lies_they_tell_us

    • Nick F (History)

      You nailed it Alex. Clearly, we must reasonably conclude that Osama bin Laden will soon be in low-earth orbit, with Pakistani cooperation, of course.

    • Deep Blue (History)

      HaHaHa! good one.

      And there was no secret war in Laos from 1955-1974.

      There was no Iran-Contra Affair.

      Iraq had WMDs.

      Freedom is slavery.

      Yes, our government never lies.

      Every single story that is contrary to what the government says is a “conspiracy theory” and must be, because it is so labeled, incorrect.

      If you have not visited Pakistan and seen their air defense facilities with your eyes (as have I), I suggest you withhold judgment on what transpired.

      Several posters above have given reasonable arguments as to why it is likely that Pakistani co-operation was required for this to work — at least to reduce risk within acceptable limits.

      Several respected journalists and experts have posted in Foreign Policy why this is also so.

      Feel free to have a laugh though.

      I agree with them.

    • Deep Blue (History)

      Thank you Anon.

      From that URL:

      “It is even less likely that, as U.S. counterterrorism czar John Brennan claimed in a press conference today, Pakistani authorities did not know about the military operation that killed bin Laden until it was over. Abbottabad’s Bilal Town neighborhood where bin Laden lived and died was virtually around the corner from the Pakistan Military Academy at Kakul — Pakistan’s West Point, where future General Kayanis and General Pashas are learning to be officers. It doesn’t take 40 minutes to start to scramble planes, or get troops to Abbottabad, and there is no getting into the town by land or air without the expressed consent of Pakistan’s security establishment. This may not have been an official joint operation, but it was almost certainly a collective effort. ”

      QED

  26. Amy (History)
    • Anon (History)

      An important point to keep in mind re. Pakistan is that the government is not monolithic: it is very likely that senior Intel officials did not share info with the civilian government. Sort of like the US, now that I think about it.

      Also, let’s recall that some news reports said that the choppers took off from Ghazi air force base in Pakistan.

      There is still no resolution of that — the BBC:

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/mobile/world-south-asia-13257330

      “There are contradictory reports about which base the helicopters took off from, with some saying the US air bases at Jalalabad or Bagram in Afghanistan, but others suggesting it was the nearby Ghazi air base inside Pakistan.”

      Presumably, if the shoppers took off from Ghazi, Pak. military and Intel was in on the game.

    • FSB (History)

      2 of the heavier helicopters may have come from Ghazi, joining 2 others from Af. — so all the reports may be correct and there may be no contradictions, after all.

      Wired and National Journal also mention Ghazi AFB:

      http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/05/video-inside-bin-ladens-drone-proof-compound/3/

      This would indicate some level of Pakistani military cooperation. Perhaps the ISI was not aware of the other 2 helicopters from Af. (?)

      Here are some graphics and video of Operation “Neptune Spear” to get “Geronimo” [who comes up with these names??]:

      http://www.tripline.net/trip/Map_of_the_Bin_Laden_Raid%3A_Operation_Geronimo-1566654170501003BC91C1F902FE5C9B

  27. Scott Monje (History)

    Regarding KAL 007: Part of the delay in shooting it down was indeed hesitation about attacking a target that might be a civilian aircraft. Other parts of the explanation were the fact that they lost it temporarily, overshot the target (that is to say, flew past when the airliner changed speed and altitude when a fighter was about to shoot), and simply missed the target. Leading to dialog like this:

    Kornukov: “Did Osipovich see the missiles explode? Hello?”

    Gerasimenko: “He fired two missiles.”

    Kornukov: “Ask him, ask him yourself, get on channel three and ask Osipovich did he or did he not see the explosions?”

    Gerasimenko: “Right away”

    Gerasimenko” “805, did you launch one missile or both?”[

    Osipovich: “I launched both”

    [snip]

    Gen. Kornukov: “Oh, [expletives] how long does it take him to get into attack position, he is already getting out into neutral waters? Engage afterburner immediately. Bring in the MiG 23 as well… While you are wasting time it will fly right out.”

    Titovnin: “805, try to destroy the target with cannons.”

    [snip]

    Gen. Kornukov: Well, I understand, I do not understand the result, why is the target flying? Missiles were fired. Why is the target flying? [obscenities] Well, what is happening?”

    My point is simply that the fact of the delay is not evidence that there was a decision to delay. Likewise, the significance of the Mattias Rust incident doesn’t have to do with risk taking. It shows how far an unexpected intruder could fly through a sophisticated air-defense system without being detected or stopped. No one has ever claimed that the Soviets must have been complicit with Rust or he wouldn’t have gotten through. On the contrary, the episode led to a wholesale overhaul of the Soviet high command.

    Regarding the level of risk and whether the president could possibly have undertaken such a risky operation: In 1980, Jimmy Carter sent helicopters into Iran to rescue hostages (persumably alive) who were under armed guard. That was a far more complicated task than simply shooting someone, and the prospect of disaster (if it had gone through to completion) was enormous. Yet no one says Carter must not have really ordered it to happen, nor does anyone assume the Iranians must have been in on it from the beginning. (I notice this time they took extra helicopters with them–no doubt a lesson of Desert One.)

    The fact that the government isn’t always truthful doesn’t mean that the speculation must be correct. (It may be correct, but it needs evidence.) The fact that the Pakistanis didn’t respond (or didn’t respond in time) is not proof of complicity in and of itself. A variety of alternative explanations are just as plausible. The sort of reasoning that we see here is what convinced the Soviets that the KAL 007 could not possibly have been a civilian airliner and convinced the Bush administration that Saddam Hussein must have had weapons of mass destruction.

    That said, I have to say that there are much crazier people out there than anyone here.

    • Deep Blue (History)

      Point taken.

      Nevertheless, as POTUS one does not take a huge risk with 79 Americans unless some level of Pakistan cooperation is in place. As POTUS, one does not say “it took the Soviets so long to shoot down KAL 007 thus I order a raid without Pakistani cooperation”

      This is self-evident, and is also evident from the links and experts quoted above.

    • amy (History)

      I think it is crazy to believe that there was no Pakistan co-operation — or just their “looking the other way” — at some level.

      The fact that at least 2 helicopters came from Ghazi AFB in Pakistan is evidence enough.

      After all they do cooperate with the drone strikes also.

      see also the URL above, viz.:

      http://afpak.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/05/04/the_bin_laden_aftermath_in_pakistan_many_questions_and_few_answers

      “Every retired Pakistani military man I have spoken with thinks that ISI/Army members must have been clued in to the operation or bin Laden’s location, but likely at the most five to ten people were in the know. If the Army knew anything, it was likely only at the highest levels — Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, ISI chief Major General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, and their closest lieutenants — and in that case the suggestion that Pakistan’s government as a whole was somehow “sheltering” bin Laden does not make much sense because Pakistan would have sold bin Laden if they had him to begin with, in exchange for some national respect from the U.S.

      A possible Pakistani pitch to the U.S. could have been: we have bin Laden in our sights; you take him out, absolve us of responsibility, you get the victory, and we don’t have to deal with the militant blowback at home. The continued campaign of drone strikes in the tribal areas compromises Pakistani sovereignty, but a one-time raid may be easier to sell and forget. The issue here is the concern that Pakistan’s double game will leave it with nothing but a backlash from both the international community and the militants. But if you find Osama bin Laden in your own front yard, you don’t really have much room for negotiation.”

  28. Allen Thomson (History)

    Festung Osama floor plan:

    http://www.boingboing.net/assets_c/2011/05/scan-000000000000-001-39443.html

    Allegedly genuine. Kinda strange.

  29. Burial *Not* in accordance with Islamic law (History)

    In the comments, people are repeating the propaganda put out by the Pentagon (and repeated unquestioningly by the New York Times and other media outlets) about how the burial was in accordance with Islamic law.

    Allow me to clarify: dumping a body in the sea is unlawful from the standpoint of every Islamic legal tradition, but for very exceptional circumstances in which somebody dies on a ship far away from land.

    Sheesh. I hate it how millions can be easily made to repeat totally made-up stuff in the so-called age of information.

  30. Gregory Matteson (History)

    Relevant to this discussion, and scary as hell, is the public debate going on inside India relative to what the US did. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Yashwant-backs-Abbottabad-like-strike-by-India/articleshow/8183300.cms

    Just off the top, Indian thought on this ignores several key aspects of power politics. First, in the raw power department, the US has orders of magnitude more sophistication, military power, ability to project power. Second, the US is fundamentally out of Pakistan’s reach. Third, and most humiliating to the Pakistani psyche, Pakistan does not stand on it’s own two feet, but is a dependent client of the US, China, and the UN. They really need all the patrons they can supplicate themselves to; excepting India, of course.

  31. Scott Monje (History)

    By the way, people keep making a big deal of the high walls and barbed wire. I wouldn’t be surprised if high walls and even barbed wire were common around the houses of the elite in a place like Pakistan. After all, the place is rife with grinding poverty, rampant crime, and of course, terrorists. Some of the terrorists with less impressive international connections may well finance themselves by kidnapping the affluent. Years ago (decades, actually), when I was a callow youth, I was in Peru and was struck by the high walls with broken glass around the houses in the more affluent neighborhoods of Lima. One day, a group of us were walking down a rural road in northern Peru and passed a small farmhouse with a tiny stone wall in front of it. The wall couldn’t have been higher than a foot, and it had no gate. One could have easily walked around it or stepped over it. Yet the farmer was intently smashing bottles and arranging the shards on his wall. Apparently, it had become a status symbol. He was showing off that he was coming up in the world and had something to protect. Now, in the case of Abbottabad, it’s still weird that no one would have looked into this case, given the nature of the town and the nature of our times. If someone built a big house outside the gates of West Point, someone would probably look into it at least to see who it was. (Perhaps they had a really good cover story? I suppose paying off an investigator isn’t that unususal either.) But the walls and wire in and of themselves may not be that striking.

  32. Deep Blue (History)

    Outlook India article on possible Pakistani role in the raid:

    http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?271714

    “From Jalalabad to Kakul would have taken the American raiders over three bases of the Pakistani air force (PAF), including the very active army helicopter base at Tarbela. Having myself flown extensively in the area, I find it hard to believe that the PAF radar units, fixed and mobile, failed to pick up all this aerial activity. Also, from Jalalabad to Abbottabad and back, with 40-45 minutes of hovering time at the target location in Kakul area, is quite an extended time for the choppers to go without refuelling, even with a disposable fuel tank.” The Americans, however, say one of the choppers was precisely for the purpose: refuelling mid-air.

    So as the details of the operation spilled out and ISI operatives began to talk off the record, a few more questions arose, flowing logically from the fog of details: Did Pakistan have prior information about the operation? What kind of intelligence did Pakistan share with the Americans that enabled them to track down Osama in his Abbottabad hideout? Why is Pakistan reluctant to admit all this? Primarily from the accounts of ISI sources and also from official briefings, Outlook has pieced together a narration to answer these questions.

  33. Carey Sublette (History)

    I think much of the commentary deserves Alex W.’s response – we might as well be supposing the Osama is going up on the shuttle.

    Skepticism needs to be skeptical of itself also, or it wraps around into being just different forms of gullibility.

    For example:

    “the Bin Laden compound seems to be within heavy machine gun range and very nearly within line of sight of Kakul – it might only have taken one junior officer with a clear head, a bit of initiative, and something fifty-caliber to have turned this into a “Black Hawk Down” scenario”.

    Is it SOP for junior officers, when hearing unexpected helicopter activity nearby in the wee hours of the morning to open fire with heavy weapons into a residential area? Just in case its a “bad guy”?

    Or:
    “There is no way that the (slow) US helicopters could fly across virtually all of Pakistan undetected — at least it is far too high-risk, without Pak mil cooperation. Period.”

    and

    “I think it is crazy to believe that there was no Pakistan co-operation — or just their “looking the other way” — at some level.

    The fact that at least 2 helicopters came from Ghazi AFB in Pakistan is evidence enough.”

    I suggest that it was not at all necessary for these helicopters to fly all the way undetected, or to have Pakistan in on the operation. It is only necessary that the flight not be perceived as a threat. The fact that the U.S., Pakistan’s close ally, routinely conducts military operations in the area provides the best cover an operation could hope for. The first thought for someone operating a Pakistani radar is unlikely to be: “An unexpected American flight? Maybe we should shoot them down just in case it is unauthorized.”

    Consider the Israeli raid on Osirak. They overflew Jordanian and Saudi airspace going out and coming back, and attacked a defended high value target in Iraq (then at war with Iran which had previously attacked the very same site) without ever being engaged. Surely we conclude that this was a U.S coordinated Israeli-Jordanian-Saudi plot, which included elements of the Iraqi military, and taht the U.S. condemnation that followed was just providing cover?

    Or just maybe the element of surprise coupled with careful ruses succeeded in protecting the Israelis?

  34. Jay (History)

    Per CNN’s Barbara Starr, the US was well prepared to fight their way out of Pakistan if necessary:

    “No firepower option was off the table” during the Navy SEALs’ 38-minute mission on the ground, or during the time U.S. helicopters were in the air, one official told CNN. “We would have done whatever we had to in order to get our men out.”

    All of the senior U.S. officials in the White House Situation Room during the assault were prepared to call their Pakistani counterparts if fighting between U.S. and Pakistani forces appeared imminent, one of the officials told CNN. The SEALs at all times retained the right of self-defense, and they could have fired at the Pakistanis to defend themselves.

    As the assault on bin Laden’s compound commenced, the United States had a number of aircraft flying protective missions. None of the aircraft entered Pakistani airspace, but they were prepared to do so if needed. These included fixed wing fighter jets that would have provided firepower if the team came under opposition fire it could not handle.

    Additionally, the Air Force had a full team of combat search and rescue helicopters including MH-53 Pave Low and HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters flying.

    The helicopter that came in to replace the crashed stealth helicopter was carrying a battlefield medical team that was flying overhead and ready to land if SEALs were wounded, one of the CNN sources said. That helicopter landed at the compound within about thirty minutes of being called.

  35. Deep Blue (History)

    Well, Reuters is reporting that there was a secret understanding between US and Pakistan, and that Pakistan would issue fake “protestations” in the event of a US Obama strike in Pakistan:

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/10/us-binladen-usa-pakistan-idUSTRE74979220110510

    The fact that some helicopters came from Ghazi AFB in Pakistan and that ISI chief was in Langley a couple of weeks before the strike lend credence to some level of co-operation.

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