CIA chief belies Zardari, endorses Obama


LAHORE: The June 11 statement by the CIA Director Leon Panetta that
al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden is hiding in Pakistan, in fact belies
President Asif Ali Zardari’s April 27, 2009 assertion that the Most
Wanted FBI fugitive is dead and endorses at the same time President
Barrack Obama’s April 29, 2009 statement that Osama is still alive.

Almost nine years after the 9/11 terror attacks and the subsequent
invasion of Afghanistan by the US-led Allied Forces, the echoing
question that continues to haunt the world remains: Where is Osama bin
Laden hiding? The CIA chief said in Washington Thursday that his
agency believes Osama Bin Laden is hiding in Pakistan, and hoped joint
operations with the Pakistani forces would find him. Asked whether he
was sure that Laden was in Pakistan, Leon Panetta said: “The last
information we had, that’s still the case. Finding Laden is one of our
major priorities. One of our hopes is that the Pakistanis move in
militarily, combined with our operations, we may be able to have a
better chance to find the al-Qaeda leader”.

Well informed diplomatic sources in Islamabad say the CIA director’s
statement is quite significant as it simply belies President Zardari’s
April 27 2009 statement that the Pakistani intelligence believes that
Osama bin Laden is dead. President Zardari had added: “The Americans
tell me they don’t know, and they are much more equipped than us to
trace him. Our intelligence services obviously think he does not exist
any more, that he is dead”. President Zardari’s statement came two
weeks after US Vice President Joseph Biden’s April 9, 2009 assertion
that al-Qaeda leaders including Osama Bin Laden, are hiding in
Pakistani Tribal Areas.

However, on April 29, 2009, hardly a day after Zardari’s statement,
that Osama is dead, Obama, in a bid to justify the US drone attacks in
Pakistani tribal areas, said Osama is still alive. Completing his
first 100 days in office, Obama defended his decision to send more
troops to Afghanistan to battle a bloody insurgency despite objections
from fellow Democrats, saying it is his responsibility to make sure
that bin Laden and his cronies are not able to create a safe haven
within which they can kill another 3,000 Americans or more.

But on the other hand, the Pakistani authorities in Islamabad, deny
the presence of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, and say the CIA’s chief’s
statement seem largely motivated by al-Qaeda chief’s June 4, 2009
audio tape message, saying President Obama had planted the seeds of
revenge and hatred towards the United States in the Muslim world by
ordering (President Asif) Zardari and his army to prevent the Swat
people from implementing Shariah. “Obama’s policies in Pakistan had
raised animosity among Muslims. Obama and his administration have
planted seeds for hatred and revenge against US. Let the American
people prepare to continue to reap what has been planted by the White
House in coming years and decades,” said Osama in his audio message
which was released by Al Jazeera.

The Pakistani authorities say whenever an Osama message is marketed,
the CIA officials start issuing statements about his presence in
Pakistan, without citing any evidence. They pointed out that similar
statements – about Osama’s presence in Pakistan – were issued by
senior American following the release of his January 14, 2009, and
March 15, 2009 audio messages.

However, diplomatic sources in Islamabad say the CIA chief’s recent
observation is not a mere statement but a piece of information based
on credible intelligence sources. The sources said the US intelligence
sleuths stationed in Pakistan have already stepped up increased
surveillance operations through newly built bases in the region and
additional daily flights of Predator drones scour the area for any
suspicious characters who might lead them to the world’ most sought
after fugitive on day. However, despite the increase in the flow of
intelligence and in the number of successful Predator strikes, none of
the strikes has come anywhere near threatening even remotely Laden.
And thus the Americans are still groping in the dark.

It was on November 10, 2001, almost a month after the 9/11 attacks,
that Osama bin Laden made his last public appearance and delivered his
last public speech at the Jalalabad Islamic studies center, after the
northern cities had begun to fall to the anti-Taliban alliance. He
stepped away from the podium, only to disappear into the mountain
fastness of Tora Bora, never to be seen again. Almost nine years
later, the worrying fact for the Americans remain that despite
conducting an intense, costly and equally complex manhunt in the US
history, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of
Investigation high ups have failed to capture Osama bin Laden and can
merely give guesstimates about his possible whereabouts.

However, the top most American intelligence and investigation agencies
are sure of a few things — Osama is still alive; very few people know
his location; he has only a few bodyguards; he never uses any
communication device be it a satellite or a mobile phone or internet;
he communicates only through handwritten notes carried by trusted
couriers; he is hiding in a friendly area and if at all he travels, he
travels at night, possibly in disguise.

Frequent claims as to the location of the fugitive al-Qaeda chief have
been made by the Americans since December 2001, although none have
been definitively proven and some have placed Osama in different
locations during overlapping time periods. For the US intelligence
sleuths, which are still groping in the dark, Osama’s friendship zone
stretches nearly 2,000 miles along the Pakistani Pashtun belt — from
Chitral in the Northern Areas near the Chinese border, south through
the troubled tribal agencies including Waziristan, down to the Zhob
district on the Balochistan border, then to the provincial capital
Quetta and southwest to the Iranian border. Interestingly, the
thinly-populated region includes almost every landscape from desert to
snow-capped mountains and thus provides an ideal refuge to bin Laden.

The Americans even do not rule out the possibility of his hiding in
some urban locality, possibly a major city as had been the case with
many of the key al-Qaeda leaders arrested in Pakistan – be it Ramzi
Binalshibh (arrested from Karachi in Sept, 2002), Abu Zubaida
(arrested from Faisalabad in March 2002), or Khaled Sheikh Mohammad
(arrested from Rawalpindi in March 2003). The Americans concede that
finding one person in a big populated urban city would much more
difficult, compared with tracking down someone in the less populated
Northern Areas or the border areas of Pakistan.

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