An­a­lysts: Bin Laden alive but ham­strung

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Bill Gertz

U.S. intelligence agen­cies think al Qaeda lead­ers Osama bin Laden andAy­manal-Zawahri­are­alive­and still plot­ting at­tacks, even though both have eluded a mas­sive man­hunt for more than five years since the Septem­ber 11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks.

Bin Laden’s few ap­pear­ances and state­mentsin­re­cent­months,andtwo re­cent bomb­ing at­tacks in Pak­istan aime­datkillin­gal-Zawahriprompted re­cent intelligence re­ports that both may be dead. But so far there has been­no­suc­cessin­lo­catin­gand­catch­ing ei­ther ex­trem­ist leader through his move­ments or com­mu­ni­ca­tions, or from intelligence agents on the ground. Both re­main pow­er­ful sym­bols for Is­lamist ex­trem­ists around the world and the tar­get of scores to hun­dred­sof­covert­spe­cial-op­er­a­tions com­man­dos, reg­u­lar troops and CIA paramil­i­tary of­fi­cers.

De­fense Sec­re­tary-des­ig­nate Robert M. Gates said on Dec. 5 that he plans to re­view the tac­tics be­ing used­by­forces­tak­ing­partinthe­fiveyear hunt for bin Laden, al­though he noted that bin Laden has be­come more a sym­bol to ter­ror­ists and less an­ac­tive­plan­neran­dor­ga­nize­ro­fat­tacks. “While it’s im­por­tant to con­tin­uethe­search­forOsam­abinLaden, I think that his abil­ity to di­rectly or­ga­nize and plan the kind of at­tacks again­s­tusthathur­tus­sobad­ly­inSeptem­ber of 2001 is very lim­ited now,” Mr. Gates said. “And I think that it’s im­por­tant to keep him on the run.”

Thechal­lengein­chasin­galQaeda lead­er­sis“fig­uringoutwherethey’re go­ing to be, not where they’ve been, and get­ting the in­for­ma­tion in a way that is timely enough to act on it,” Mr. Gates said.

“With that kind of intelligence lack­ing,” he said, “the way we’ll catch bin Laden even­tu­ally, in my view, is that just as in the case of Sad­damHus­sein,one­ofhisown­peo­ple will turn him in.”

“I think just as he is not or­ga­niz­ing things any longer, but re­mains a pow­er­ful sym­bol, I think be­ing able to cap­ture or kill him would have a pow­er­ful sym­bolic im­pact also,” Mr. Gates told the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee.

Two weeks ago, Di­rec­tor of Na­tional Intelligence John D. Ne­gro­ponte was asked why bin Laden has eluded the man­hunt. He said he would not pro­vide “a long ex­e­ge­sis” ex­plain­ing the fail­ure so far.

“Ob­vi­ously,we’renot­go­ing­to­give up on our ef­forts to track him down,” Mr.Ne­gro­pon­te­saidafteraspeechat Har­vard Univer­sity. CIA Di­rec­tor MichaelV.Hay­den­toldWTOPra­dio two weeks ago that both bin Laden and al-Zawahri are “still alive” and “and work­ing to hurt the peo­ple and val­ues of the United States.”

In­tel­li­gence­of­fi­cials­said­binLaden andal-Zawahri­are­hidin­gin­sep­a­rate lo­ca­tion­s­some­where­inthe­ex­tremely rugged and moun­tain­ous border re­gion sep­a­rat­ing Pak­istan and Afghanistan. Scores to sev­eral hun­dred reg­u­lar and spe­cial-op­er­a­tions troops and CIA of­fi­cers are work­ing in­sev­er­al­task­forces­tolo­cate­both­bin Laden and his deputy, al-Zawahri, along the 1,200-mile border.

The State De­part­ment, for its part, is sup­port­ing pro­grams in Afghanistan and Pak­istan to de­velop the un­governed border re­gionas­partofa“drain-the-swamp” anti-ter­ror­ism cam­paign.

John Gas­tright, deputy as­sis­tant sec­re­tary­of­s­tate­forSouthAsia,said theUnit­edS­tate­sis­sup­port­in­gaPak­ista­ni­plan­tospend$750mil­lionover fiveyearstode­vel­opthe­bor­der­re­gion so it won’t sup­port ter­ror­ists.

Sev­eral bil­lion dol­lars in U.S. and in­ter­na­tional funds also were spent in Afghanistan as well, in­clud­ing the border re­gion. “The re­al­ity is that over time [al Qaeda] won’t find a home there” once the area is de­vel­oped, he said.

Den­nisPluchin­sky,aform­er­State De­part­ment coun­tert­er­ror­ism an­a­lyst, said bin Laden’s low profile is likely the re­sult of poor health or be­cause he is hid­ing in an ul­tra-se­cret lo­ca­tion that is too risky to con­duct video­tap­ing.

“The­last­pos­si­bil­itylead­stothein­trigu­ingques­tionofwhetheritismore se­cure­tomake­many­move­ments,or to stay in one place for a lengthy pe­riod of time,” he said. “The more you move, the more op­por­tu­ni­ties for some­one­toseey­oumove.Th­e­longer you stay in one place, the greater the pos­si­bil­ity that the en­emy may find you, es­pe­cially in sec­tor searches.”

Gen. Hay­den told the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee in con­gres­sional tes­ti­mony on Nov. 15 that killingor­cap­tur­ing­binLade­nan­dalZawahri will not end the al Qaeda threat, but “prob­a­bly would con­tribute­tothe­un­rav­elin­gofthe­cen­tral al Qaeda or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

Al Qaeda’s “phys­i­cal safe haven in the Afghanistan-Pak­istan border area,”Gen.Hay­den­said,gives­theter­ror­ists “the phys­i­cal — and psy­cho­log­i­cal—space­need­ed­tomeet,train, ex­pandit­snet­work­sand­pre­pare­new at­tacks.”

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