BUT CIA SAYS BIN LADEN HUNT HAS GONE "STONE COLD"
From Bloomberg :
U.S. forces hunting Osama bin Laden and other terrorists in Afghanistan will cross into Pakistan if necessary, U.S. President George W. Bush said, as the leaders of the two neighboring countries traded blame over the insurgency.
"We would take the action necessary to bring them to justice,'' Bush said in an interview with Cable News Network yesterday. When asked if he would order U.S. troops into Pakistan to capture or kill bin Laden, if intelligence indicated he was hiding there, Bush responded: "Absolutely.''
Bin Laden has been on the run since a U.S.-led coalition ousted the Islamist Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001. Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, who sheltered the al-Qaeda chief and hosted his training camps, has also evaded capture.
The guerrilla war being waged by Taliban rebels is a source of tension between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. The pair clashed at the United Nations General Assembly in New York yesterday, each saying the other must do more to tackle the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
Bush will hold talks with Musharraf and Karzai in Washington on Sept. 27 to discuss the joint fight against terrorism, White House spokesman Tony Snow said.
"I view President Musharraf as somebody who would like to bring al-Qaeda to justice,'' Bush told CNN, when asked whether the Pakistani leader was doing enough to track down terrorists in tribal regions bordering Afghanistan. ``There's no question there is a kind of a hostile territory in the remote regions of Pakistan that makes it easier for somebody to hide.''
Musharraf, who has faced opposition from Islamist groups for supporting the U.S.-led war on terrorism, said his government would oppose any U.S. action in Pakistan.
"We wouldn't like to allow that at all,'' he told reporters in New York. "We will do it ourselves.''
A January 13 U.S. air strike on suspected al-Qaeda figures in a village in northwestern Pakistan killed 18 people and sparked protests against the U.S. across the country.
Musharraf and Karzai have been at odds over efforts to dislodge Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters hiding along the mountainous border between the two countries.
"We must look beyond Afghanistan to the sources of terrorism,'' Karzai said in a speech to the General Assembly yesterday, without mentioning Pakistan. ``We must destroy terrorism sanctuaries beyond Afghanistan, dismantle the elaborate networks in the region that recruit, indoctrinate, train, finance and deploy terrorists.''
Musharraf took issue with Karzai's comments and said his government is pursuing a "massive, multi-pronged'' political and military strategy to tackle insurgents.
"The problem lies in Afghanistan,'' he said, adding that Omar was sheltering in Afghanistan's southern Kandahar province. "Military action is required against him and his commanders,'' Musharraf added.
The Pakistani president defended an accord signed this month with pro-Taliban tribal leaders in the North Waziristan region to expel foreign al-Qaeda-linked fighters, in return for scaling back the number of Pakistani troops in the area.
"We need to take the influential tribal elders on our side,'' Musharraf said yesterday, according to the Associated Press of Pakistan. "We have to tackle Talibanization,'' he said, adding it was important to "wean away the population from getting on their side.''
From the Asia Times :
The al-Qaeda leader recently traveled from the South Waziristan tribal area in Pakistan to somewhere in the eastern Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nooristan, or possibly Bajour, a s mall tribal agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Area of Pakistan in North-West Frontier Province.From the Washington Post :
According to a witness, bin Laden traveled in a double-cabin truck with a few armed guards - not in a convoy. Apparently, this is how he now prefers to move around.
Bin Laden, with a US$25 million bounty on his head, has not been sighted for some time, and he has not been seen on any new videotape since late 2004, although audio tapes purporting to be him speaking surfaced this year.
At the same time, a close aide responsible for bin Laden's logistics and media relations told Asia Times Online that bin Laden had recovered from serious kidney-related ailments.
In Tuesday's attack in Damascus, four men tried to drive two explosives-laden cars into the US Embassy compound. Four of them and a security official were killed. One of the cars exploded outside the compound.
The incident not only carries al-Qaeda hallmarks, it is also very much in line with the al-Qaeda leadership's focus, agreed on during the Israel-Hezbollah war, to extend the flames of conflict across the region.
In this vein, bin Laden's No 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, warned on Monday that the Persian Gulf region and Israel would be the next targets of al-Qaeda. He was speaking in a video message released to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
In addition to bin Laden's improved health, al-Qaeda has in the past few months gained some breathing room to regroup and solidify its logistics as a result of the situation in the semi-autonomous North and South Waziristan tribal areas.
This area has long been home to al-Qaeda elements, but until recently they had been under intense pressure from Pakistan's security forces. However, as the tribals gained more strength - some Taliban-affiliated districts have even been declared independent of Islamabad - the authorities realized they were fighting a losing battle.
This culminated last week in security officials and the "Pakistani Taliban" agreeing to a temporary ceasefire. Previously choked channels between the Waziristans and other parts of Pakistan were now fully opened, allowing al-Qaeda to start moving money again.
A new dynamic among militant groups has emerged in Egypt to complement al-Qaeda's designs in the Middle East. Tuesday's Damascus attack could also be an illustration of this.
Many youths previously associated with the militant Gamaa Islamiya of Egypt have formed independent cells, while some Egyptian youths of Palestinian origin have created underground organizations to target the pro-Israeli Egyptian government and US interests.
Credit goes to al-Qaeda that in the past six months it established inroads into these organizations, to the extent that they are now directly under the command of the al-Qaeda leadership.
This was confirmed by Zawahiri last month in a videotape aired on Al-Jazeera news network: "We announce to the Islamic nation the good news of the unification of a great faction of the knights of the Gamaa Islamiya ... with the al-Qaeda group."
Al-Qaeda has evolved into more of an ideological inspiration to sharpen Muslim reaction against the West and create a backlash than a militant group. Five years of the US-led "war on terror" damaged its structure and it was forced to melt into the local resistance movements of Iraq and Afghanistan. Already, the Taliban and Iraqi resistances complement each other, sharing experience, skills and even logistics.
From this position, al-Qaeda will work to bind all local resistance movements into one coordinated unit against the US and its allies, with the ultimate aim of creating a universal Muslim backlash against the West.
The Israel-Hezbollah war proved the ideal starting point for this plan. The successful defense of Lebanon by Hezbollah was largely taken in the Arab world as the first Arab victory against Israel. Sentiment on the streets of the Middle East turned noticeably against the US, Israel and pro-West Muslim rulers.
Al-Qaeda wants to keep this mood, and inflame it even further. Attacks like the one in Damascus could be such pot-boilers. More, and bigger, ones are most likely being plotted by the masterminds sitting in the tribal areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The clandestine U.S. commandos whose job is to capture or kill Osama bin Laden have not received a credible lead in more than two years. Nothing from the vast U.S. intelligence world -- no tips from informants, no snippets from electronic intercepts, no points on any satellite image -- has led them anywhere near the al-Qaeda leader, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials.War in Pakistan will now increase. Where US troops go, so terrorism tends to follow.
"The handful of assets we have have given us nothing close to real-time intelligence" that could have led to his capture, said one counterterrorism official, who said the trail, despite the most extensive manhunt in U.S. history, has gone "stone cold."
But in the last three months, following a request from President Bush to "flood the zone," the CIA has sharply increased the number of intelligence officers and assets devoted to the pursuit of bin Laden. The intelligence officers will team with the military's secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and with more resources from the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies.