Thu. May 05, 2011
Osama's Sloppy Tradecraft
The story of the assault on Osama’s compound has shifted a bit since Sunday night, but from the beginning, there were a couple of things that struck me as very odd.
When you are the Most Wanted Man on Earth, you cannot live a “normal” life. Yet it appears that’s exactly what bin laden tried to do: live in one place for an extended time, with his family.
Back when bin Laden was rumored to be hiding out in Waziristan, there was another rumor. It was suggested bin Laden had a fanatical core guard of about 100 fighters. And their job was not only to protect Osama, but also to prevent him from being captured or killed by US forces, by shooting him themselves, if that time came. Sure, it wasn’t ever confirmed, but it made sense.
But, in the end, Osama’s compound contained exactly three males of fighting age, only one of whom managed to even fire on US forces. And Osama was found with two weapons within arms reach. He neither fired in self defense, nor put a bullet through his own head before US forces even entered the room. I can’t help but wonder how long it had been since the Most Wanted Man on Earth even practiced with a weapon. Years?
Also, when you are the Most Wanted Man on Earth, you’d best not settle in one spot for very long. The longer you are in one place, the greater the odds that someone will track you down. Or betray you. Yet all indications are that Osama had been in that compound since at least August of 2010, if not since 2005.
There’s only two explanations for staying in one place so long with virtually no defense force. One, you got very sloppy with your tradecraft, or got so tired of running you no longer cared. Or two: it only makes sense if you have a support network that is fairly certain it can give you advance warning of a raid, so you can run quickly. In support of that idea, Osama was found wearing clothes that had 500 Euros and a couple of phone numbers sewn into them.
Now, 500 Euros won’t get you very far, or last very long, but it will at least get you to your next stop, nearby, where you can call for help.
And, of course, we now all know that Abbotabad, where bin Laden was found, is a military city where Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point is located, as well as many retired military and intelligence officers. Veterans of the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan.
One can’t help but wonder if his support network included members of the military or Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI. Ultimately, whoever that support network was, they let bin Laden down. One also can’t help but wonder why, during a 38 minute period that included the sound of helicopters, a firefight, and the destruction of the crashed chopper, no one, not even a single cop, responded. Perhaps they put 2 plus 2 together, and decided they had no interest in tangling with US special forces.
We’ll likely never know much more than we do now.
And honestly, I have no problem with any of it. Not the invasion of Pakistan by US forces to make the assault (any advance warning may well have been leaked to bin Laden). Not the fact Osama was killed rather than captured (can you imagine the platform Osama would have been given by a trial, and the risks of such a trial? How many Americans would be kidnapped to ransom Osama?). Not the burial at sea (some say the body should have been kept as evidence. But for how long? And then where do you put it?). Not the decision to not release any photos (I don’t need to see a death photo, it feels like a sort of “tit for tat” for all the death photos/videos Al Qaeda released. And we’re better than that).
But I am extremely pleased that on the next anniversary of 9/11, or the next election, or the next terrorist attack, we won’t have to put up with another smug video/audio tape from bin Laden.