BIN LADEN NEXT?

Newsweek reports that recent events have made the capture of Osama bin Laden more likely:

U.S. intelligence officials agree that trapping the Qaeda leader, who has eluded pursuers for more than a decade, will be much more difficult than getting Saddam. But U.S. manhunting teams in Afghanistan, recently united with similar teams in Iraq under the umbrella of Task Force 121, have actually come close to nailing their quarries on several occasions, sources say. They are also using, in some cases, similar techniques. NEWSWEEK has learned that software used to track wanted Iraqis is also being used to piece together and identify weaknesses in the ethnic, family and tribal links of bin Laden’s network, according to intelligence analysts and company officials. The software, called Analyst’s Notebook, was developed by i2 Inc., a Springfield, Va., company. Analyst’s Notebook allows investigators to turn huge volumes of data into actionable intelligence, creating charts of complex networks by identifying, for example, frequent phone calls between members. The same program traced the “love bug” computer virus of 2000 to an obscure hacker in the Philippines and has been used to nab serial killers, said Chuck Izzo, an i2 spokesman.

Even Zabihullah says that bin Laden had a close call not long ago. He says the terror chieftain and his protective entourage scurried into the bushes when a U.S. aircraft streaked overhead as they were walking along a mountain trail. The plane did not see them. Another Taliban fighter who calls himself Assadullah Zarafat says that several months ago, U.S. and Afghan forces brushed by Mullah Omar in Uruzgan province without recognizing him. Omar and his security detachment had stopped at a local mosque to say their afternoon prayers. As they were finishing, several pickup trucks and Humvees carrying Afghan and U.S. soldiers pulled up to the mosque and the Afghans went in to pray. Mullah Omar told his men to hide their weapons and not to react. He then led the newcomers in prayer.

***

The real test of bin Laden’s vulnerability may now come in Pakistan. If the attack on Musharraf proves to be Qaeda-linked–rather than an “inside” assassination attempt, perhaps by members of the Pakistani military–it could backfire against bin Laden by provoking the Pakistani president into decisive action. U.S. intelligence officials say their ability to capture bin Laden and his associates is largely dependent on intelligence assistance from Pakistan, an ally that once supported the Taliban and whose loyalties have sometimes been in doubt. “Most of Musharraf’s actions against jihadis have been reluctantly taken under tremendous U.S. pressure, often preceding or just following a high-level American visit,” says Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani diplomat. One U.S. intel official, asked about a potential breakthrough against bin Laden, responds simply: “That’s going to be a Pakistani thing.”

FILED UNDER: Terrorism
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.