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NightWatch 20110502


For the Night of 1 May 2011

Pakistan-US: Comment: Bin Laden and a son are dead, killed in a firefight by US Navy SEALS carried in two helicopters to Abbottabad, Pakistan, just 35 miles north of Islamabad. The US commandos took custody of his body to prove he is dead and got away safely.

News services quoted unidentified US officials that the body was prepared for burial according to the Muslim ritual. Readers might wonder who gave such an order and why.

The Abbottabad location is important for two reasons. Bin Laden could not have lived in a compound in Abbottabad without official Pakistani government sustenance. Abbottabad is an upscale area and a garrison town, but not so large as to be impersonal. Bin Laden was living in protected luxury. Many people had to know that and probably will come forward in a little time.

On 7 December 2001, Bin Laden escaped from the tunnels in Tora Bora, Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, with the help of a local warlord named Hazrat Ali, who betrayed US forces who had hired him to help capture bin Laden and is now a member of the Afghan Parliament for Nangarhar. Bin Laden and his gang crossed the Tora Bora mountains to Parachinar, Pakistan, where a Pakistan Army brigade was deployed to ensure his capture if he crossed the border. They failed, of course. He headed east to Kohat, another Army garrison town and disappeared.

The distance from Kohat to Abbottabad is several hundred kilometers by road, but the two towns are part of the Pakistan Army network of garrison towns in the northwest. Bin laden reportedly moved around in the northwest,  but one inference is that bin Laden has been in the safe keeping of the Pakistan Army for a decade. The news reports suggest the compound was specially built for him and his enterprise, which had to have been subsidized by Pakistan and, through Pakistan, by US aid to Pakistan.

Secondly, his compound could not have been attacked from Afghanistan, him killed and his body taken by US Navy SEALs flying US helicopters so close to Islamabad without official Pakistani government cooperation. The US insisted Pakistan played no part in the operation and that the team flew from Afghanistan. That clearly is a cover story for Pakistani public consumption to try to avert overwhelming anti-Pakistan and anti-US demonstrations, which are probably inevitable in any event.

Abottabad is not some remote village on the border. It is a large town in eastern Pakistan, on the main road to Kargil and the north as well as to Muzaffarabad and Pakistani Kashmir to the east. It is northeast - towards India - of Islamabad and within the Pakistan air defense intercept zone for the national capital which is protected by the Pakistani integrated air defense system. Nothing can fly in that region without detection and without permission from the Pakistan Air Force, even from Afghanistan.

The conclusion is inescapable that the Pakistan Army protected bin Laden and recently decided to give him up, rather than sacrifice the Army's relationship with the US. The terms are not known as yet, but there certainly is a trade in which bin Laden was sacrificed. The trade might involve an end to US drone attacks across the border, which humiliate the Pakistan Army, or a new coordination regime for drone attacks into Pakistan.

Bin Laden was a hero in Pakistan. He stood up to the United States and lived …for ten years. Readers should expect an enormous backlash against Americans.

If the Pakistan civilian government survives, it will be because of the cover story that the US acted unilaterally. If the cover story works, on the surface, the US and Pakistani relationship will appear in the international media to take a nose dive. That will not be the truth, though few Pakistanis will know the truth. If the cover story is not believed, the government will not likely survive. There will be investigations by the National Assembly.

One lesson of analysis of terrorist behavior is that terrorists are most vulnerable when they move about. A month or so ago, Asia Times online published a report about bin Laden's movements in the border regions. Those reports look credible. Abottabad has good access to the western border and bin Laden had Pakistani protection. Movement to the border would have posed no major problems, but movement always increases the risk of detection.

Bin Laden was killed with two couriers, whose fate is not reported. The point is that this operation had to have inside help. The increased contacts and movements woould have increased the circle of people who knew bin Laden's location and, thus, the likelihood of a serious security breach, especially by low-paid staff.

A final point is that the operation appears to have been a success primarily of human source intelligence and special forces operations, not the drone program, though every asset probably had some role. Bin Laden's mansion compound was  too near Islamabad for any armed drone attacks.

Afghanistan: Comment: The death of bin Laden will put to the test whether the Taliban and anti-Afghan government fighting groups are an extension of al Qaida or home grown rebels. The NightWatch hypothesis is that bin Laden's death will have little to no impact on the fighting in Afghanistan. If that hypothesis proves accurate, then the anti-Kabul fight will clarify as a Pashtun uprising that is not connected to al Qaida in any substantive way.

Similarly, if the Pakistani Taliban continue their terrorist fight against the government in Islamabad, that also will undermine the AF/PAK linkage. In other words, decapitation of al Qaida will not make Afghanistan or Pakistan more secure. It is a victory of justice visited on a mass murderer. The myth of the bin Laden narrative as the root of America's security problems should die with bin Laden.

The Badr Offensive. Over the weekend Mullah Omar's acolytes, who wear black turbans, announced the start of the spring offensive.

The campaign launched by the black turbans is known as "Badar" (or Badr), and refers to a key early battle for the establishment of Mohammed's military dominion in Mecca in 624 AD. Muslims believe Mohammed triumphed through divine intervention.

The explicit aim of the Badr offensive is to "protect the principles of Islam and religion from the talons of the invaders, and save our country and the Afghan people from foreign colonialism."

The list of places to target includes, "military centers, gathering places, air bases, military convoys carrying munitions and logistical supplies for the invading armies" and of persons who can justifiably be killed, in the name of the holy jihad.

"The main targets of mujahedin attacks," the document states, "must continue to be foreign troops, the members of their spy networks (and of other spies), top-ranking officers of Kabul's puppet administration, whether military or civilian, members of the executive, members of the parliament, the heads of foreign and local companies that work for the enemy, and contractors."

The list also includes members of the High Peace Council appointed a few months ago by President Karzai in order to foster reconciliation with the Taliban. Since "US espionage agencies, government functionaries of the puppet administration, and the enemies of the Afghan people and of the jihad" are also alleged to have installed themselves in the "so-called peace council, and are trying to pave the way to prolonging US occupation," according to the Taliban communiqué, "even members of the Council can be targets of mujahedin attacks."

Comment: Open source reports on Taliban activity in the past two months indicate a high level of movement by fighting forces and a buildup of supplies, most trucked in from Pakistan. There was no winter lull in the fighting, but there also was no reduction in the flow of supplies.

The Taliban announce spring offensives every year and they execute them. That means the announcement of the spring offensive is not a propaganda stunt. Whatever good the US surge did, it did not prevent the annual spring Taliban offensive.

Yemen: President Saleh reneged on his agreement in principle to accept the Gulf Cooperation Council' mediated agreement.

Comment: Twenty-four hours after Saleh telephoned Syria's Bashar al Asad to discuss strategy and security issues, Saleh decided to tough it out.

Syria: A military source said on 1 May that two members of the military and security forces were martyred and eight others were wounded in Daraa. The security forces, reinforced by additional tanks, killed 10 members of the armed terrorist groups and arrest 499 others.

Comment: Late reports indicated demonstrations occurred in 35 cities on Friday. Unofficial reports indicate 560 people have been killed since the protests began. There have been no reports of defections or military mutinies over the weekend. There are no outward signs of a lack of rgovernment esolve to suppress the uprising by force, during this Watch.

Egypt: Update. The Muslim Brotherhood, in its new non-religious incarnation will contest half the seats in the new parliament in September.  The Egyptian government  also is pressing to open the border crossing to the Gaza Strip permanently.

Libya: The funeral of Sayf-al-Arab Muhammad al-Qadhafi and Qadhafi's three grandchildren and their friends will be held on 2 May following noon prayers at Shuhada al-Hani cemetery, according to an official announcement.

Comment: Qadhafi surrendered his nuclear program when Iraq was attacked. The death of bin Laden along with the death of his youngest son and three grandchildren might induce him to seek a deal with NATO, as sad as that might appear. He has not shown himself to be especially brave in old age.

Morocco:  Authorities announced that the bombing in a restaurant in Marakech last week involved a remotely detonated device, not a suicide bomb. The investigation continues.

End of NightWatch for 1 May.

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