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"An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last."
Sir Winston Churchill

9.11.2007

Why Isn't Osama Bin Laden's Head on a Pike at Ground Zero?

Perhaps it's because our leaders don't want it there:

It is unclear whether American or Pakistani intelligence officials know where bin Laden is. Our best guess seems to be that "The Sheik" is alive and kicking back in some grotto in Waziristan. So what is keeping the U.S. from sending in covert special ops troops to hunt him down? Are U.S. officials really that afraid of the overwhelming force of the Waziri tribesmen, doubtless some of the most backward people on Earth?

Well, based on past experience, the U.S. high command prefers to dither rather than to launch an actual operation, particularly one that might include risk. Arguably our best chance to get bin Laden came on Dec. 15, 2001, when "The Sheik" was overheard live on Jihad Radio broadcasting from the beautiful Tora Bora caves. Surrounded by U.S. and Northern Alliance troops and his capture a dead certainty, bin Laden was on the verge -- a la Hitler -- of committing suicide. Then the U.S. dithered. Gen. Tommy Franks decided it would take weeks to mobilize his forces, and the terrain was intolerable. And snowy. Besides somebody could get frostbite. Such dawdling allowed bin Laden to escape.

Franks counters that the U.S. was never sure where bin Laden was, which seems not so much a proper defense as more evidence of the general's incompetence and unpreparedness. Besides, explained Franks in a 2004 New York Times op-ed, "Killing and capturing Taliban and Qaeda fighters was best done by the Afghan fighters who already knew the caves and tunnels." In fact, the U.S. relied heavily on untrained Afghan tribesmen, whose leaders sometimes took bribes from al Qaeda and the CIA. Newsweek notes that one of these leaders -- the aptly named Hazrat Ali -- accepted $6 million from al Qaeda to help bin Laden escape in 2001. (Curiously U.S. officials continue to insist that loyal and god-fearing Afghan tribesmen are not interested in the $25 million bounty on bin Laden's head.) More important, Franks was preoccupied with the upcoming Iraq invasion and already had one foot out the door. Delta Force and other top-flight special ops forces were soon transferred to Iraq.

In fact, the CIA had no fewer than 10 chances between May 1998 and May 1999 to capture bin Laden, according to Michael Scheuer, author of Imperial Hubris, and first head of Alec Station, the CIA unit dedicated to capturing bin Laden and his top lieutenants. And Newsweek recounted a near miss last winter when American troops came within shouting distance of stumbling upon bin Laden's hideyhole. At this point it seems if bin Laden is captured it will likely be a result of dumb luck.

Blown chances, near misses and reprioritization might be the keywords for any Google search of "CIA, Osama bin Laden." Speaking of reprioritization, last year the agency shut down Alec Station (apparently it could no longer spare the two dozen bin Laden experts deployed there). Scheuer told the London Times that the closing "reflected a view within the agency that Mr. bin Laden was no longer the threat he once was."

That is pretty much the general attitude no matter which general you talk to. In 2005 the Times interviewed newly retired CIA executive director and chief operating officer AB "Buzzy" Krongard. Krongard, a former investment banker -- who will hopefully return to investment banking -- said that the world is better off with Osama bin Laden a free man. "If the world's most wanted terrorist is captured or killed, a power struggle among his al Qaeda subordinates may trigger a wave of terror attacks....You can make the argument that we're better off with him (at large)....Because if something happens to Bin Laden, you might find a lot of people vying for his position and demonstrating how macho they are by unleashing a stream of terror."


If Bin Laden dies peacefully in his sleep, it will be because our leaders shirked their duty.

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