Friday, May 06, 2011

Greg Sheridan on bin Laden's Death & Aftermath

From Rupert Murdoch's The Australian, an interesting analysis, which I hope might reach readers of his Wall Street Journal. An excerpt:
A political miscalculation is easier to believe than the most miraculously perfect and clean special operations episode in the history of modern warfare.

Another interpretation has it that the Americans did tell the Pakistanis about the operation just after it began. It was too late then for them to tip off bin Laden, but it meant they could pull back their own soldiers and air force and prevent them reacting. That is also plausible.

There are a lot of other theories swirling around.

Indonesian terrorist Umar Patek, the Jemaah Islamiah commander who was integral to the Bali bombing which killed 202 people, including 88 Australians, was arrested in Pakistan a few months ago. He had been in Abbottabad. It is known he was in Pakistan to make contact with al-Qa'ida, which has helped JI in the past. According to some sources, Patek visited bin Laden at the compound in Abbottabad.

If so, it was Patek who led the Americans to bin Laden. But if Patek did visit bin Laden, how then is it that the world's most wanted terrorists didn't change his residence as soon as the Indonesian was arrested in January?

Did the ISI assure bin Laden of his safety and then betray him? Or was bin Laden in effect a prisoner in Abbottabad?

This is all very speculative. It is difficult to have confidence in any of the speculation, but nor is it easier to have faith in the detail of the official explanation, which has changed quite a lot in the various iterations.

If the Pakistanis did play a role in actively giving bin Laden to the Americans, it would make up for a lot of the grief they have caused Washington in recent years. It also makes it much easier for Barack Obama to pull the US out of Afghanistan sooner rather than later. And it occurs against a framework of US Defence Secretary Robert Gates leaving his job and General David Patraeus, the American commander in Afghanistan, being switched to head the Central Intelligence Agency.

Gates's replacement is Leon Panetta, the CIA director. The US intelligence community, as opposed to the military, has long been pessimistic about Afghanistan and inclined to leave there as soon as decently possible.

A Pakistani gift of bin Laden would assist this development and pay dividends for everybody, including the Pakistanis, who now believe the American involvement in Afghanistan is radicalising their society as well as limiting their strategic options in Afghanistan.