May 2011, N5      

By Victor Volsky       

Courage Vastly Overrated in Pakistan Raid                    


So our valiant President dismissed his generals' suggestion to bomb Osama bin Laden's compound to kingdom come and ordered an extremely risky commando raid on the arch-terrorist's lair. By doing so Barack Obama exhibited incredible courage and showed once and for all how resolute and warlike he can be when America's vital interests are at stake and what a great wartime president he is. An epic heroic story - except that is not supported by facts.

It is one thing to fly unmanned Predator drones along the Afghan-Pakistan border and shoot missiles at terrorist targets in the tribal areas of North-Western Pakistan which for all intents and purposes lie beyond the central government's control and are only tenuously connected to the national fabric. Such a tactic also offers the advantage of plausible deniability; the U.S. can always reject the allegations or, at worst, admit an "inadvertent" intrusion into the Pakistani air space, offer an apology and that would be that. Even so the Predator operations cause wide-spread indignation in Pakistan as flagrant violations of the country's sovereignty and constitute a major stumbling block in the relations between the two countries.

Whether a bombing run or a commando-style operation, the attack on the compound in Abbotabad, a virtual suburb of Pakistan's capital Islamabad, is a clear-cut act of war. No responsible government would ever tolerate such an egregious offense - unless it is in cahoots with the perpetrator, that is. And everything suggests that not only was the Pakistani government fully informed of the raid but it also cooperated with the U.S. in some manner.

A little history is in order. In August 1998, Bill Clinton, desperately seeking to divert attention from the burgeoning Monica Lewinsky scandal, ordered a missile strike on Osama bin Laden's camp in Afghanistan in ostensible retaliation for the Al-Qaeda bombing of two U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Some 80 cruise missiles were launched from the Indian Ocean, but when they arrived at their destination, there was no one in the target area. Now imagine that you are the commander of the Pakistani air defenses. All of a sudden, your radars register a large number of missiles flying in the direction of your country. Your logical conclusion very likely would be that Pakistan is under attack from India. By the same token, the Indians would observe the same picture on their radar screens and probably come to the conclusion that the missiles were launched at their country by perfidious Pakistan (to reach Afghanistan, the U.S. missiles had to overfly either India or Pakistan). Even Clinton, for all his inveterate, adolescent unseriousness, understood the inherent risks involved. So Washington warned both India and Pakistan about the strike, whereupon the Pakistanis hastened to pass the information to their client, the Taliban, who, in turn, alerted their friend Osama bin Laden of the coming danger. Hence the empty camp. The whole "retaliatory strike" was a purely political gesture for which the long-suffering American tax-payer shelled out an estimated $120 million.

Now to the daring raid. If you believe the official (admittedly, highly fluid) version of the raid, four U.S. helicopters with two score Special Forces SEALs on board enter the Pakistani air space, reach the target area deep inside the country (about 100 miles from the border), the commandos attack Osama bin Laden's compound, engage in a firefight with the defenders lasting 20 minutes, then spend another 20 or 25 minutes inside the building gathering evidence, blow up one of the helicopters that suffered a mechanical malfunction, and fly away in perfect safety. And no one in Abbotabad was the wiser, even though it is a virtual garrison town, with at least three regiments on active duty and thousands of military retirees, with a presumably well-guarded military Academy (Pakistan's version of West Point) a mere few hundred yards from the scene of action. Pardon me, but if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

The Pakistanis now have to perform a very adroit high-wire act. On the one hand they have to vocally deny their complicity so as to avoid sharing the blame for the "crime" in the eyes of their populace, while broadly hinting (wink, wink) that their protestations shouldn't be taken at face value, so as not to overly alienate the U.S. public and put at risk the vital American aid. But if it is easier to believe in the tooth fairy than to suggest that the Pakistanis were totally in the dark. Here is a well-placed source:

"Lieutenant General Asad Durrani, former head of the ISI, Pakistan's intelligence service, said it was "inconceivable" that his government was unaware of the US raid on Osama bin Laden's compound.
He claimed his country was forced to deny any knowledge of the raid to avoid a domestic backlash. The ISI's official line has been that bin Laden's compound had "slipped off our radar" after it raided the building in 2003 while hunting for another senior al-Qaeda operative. The agency claims it was unaware that bin Laden was hiding there.

Lieutenant General Durrani, however, said that the denial was a "political" maneuver by the intelligence services to avoid claims that they were working too closely with the US.

He said: "It is more likely that they did know [about the raid]. It is not conceivable that it was done without the involvement of Pakistani security forces at some stage. They were involved and they were told they were in position.

"The army chief was in his office, the cordons had been thrown around that particular place. The Pakistani helicopters were also in the air so that indicates that it was involved.

"[There are] political implications back home. If you say that you are involved there is a large, vocal faction of Pakistani society that will get very upset because we are carrying out repeatedly these operations with the Americans."

How could it be otherwise? The Pakistanis' duplicity is well known, but it shouldn't come as a surprise. Pace the liberal belief in the innate goodness of all people, egotism is a prevalent characteristic of human beings and the nations they form. As Lord Palmerston told Queen Victoria, "Nations don't have permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests. So rather than relying on the Pakistanis' goodwill, they had to be compelled to comply with the American wishes.

My guess is the U.S. forced Islamabad to cooperate in the same way Washington induced Islamabad to toe the line in the case of A.Q. Khan, the famous proprietor of the underground nuclear bazaar. For many years the Pakistanis had strenuously denied that "the father of the Pakistani atom bomb" engaged in any untoward activity. Then the U.S. built a massive body of incontrovertible evidence against the wily A.Q. Khan and in 2004 presented it the Pakistanis. Trapped, they had to acquiesce in U.S. demands. A.Q. Khan's illicit empire was quietly dismantled, while Islamabad was given a chance to save face. Presumably, something like that occurred in this case, too.

The storyline peddled by the White House and trumpeted by the compliant media changes by the hour. But no matter all the contortions of their sloppily constructed version, they will never admit that the Pakistanis aided and abetted the operation. Because if they did, the entire myth of Obama's "incredible courage" in ordering the "extremely risky" operation collapses. This in no way detracts from the valor of the U.S. commandos who did not know if the occupants of the compound wore explosive belts or other explosives (Is it why they shot the opposition in the head and legs?). The troops faced an enormous risk and performed admirably under the circumstances.

But their Commander-in-Chief faced no risk at all and deserves plaudits only for giving the go-ahead to the mission to kill bin Laden, emulating his hated and despised predecessor. But the story of Barack Obama as a modern-day incarnation of George S. Patton is as phony as a three-dollar bill - or as the official photograph of the White House national security team watching, in palpable tension, the commando operation in progress. As CIA Director Leon Panetta has admitted (source), there was no live video footage of the raid.


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