Tuesday, October 01, 2002

Inconclusive Proof: Is Osama Alive?

The New York Times posted a new report, 10-Month bin Laden Mystery: Dead or Alive?

TORA BORA, Afghanistan, Sept. 23 This is where the trail ran cold.

With the uncertainties surrounding Osama bin Laden since the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States whether he is alive or dead, in Afghanistan or Pakistan, or perhaps in some hide- out much farther afield this much is known: The last sightings of the leader of Al Qaeda of which pursuers can be reasonably certain were here in the White Mountains of southeastern Afghanistan.

More interestingly, that article also recalls the failed capture of most of al-Qaeda. Remember how the possible escape of bin Laden was blamed on the Northern Alliance's unwillingness to surround al-Qaeda? They left al-Qaeda an escape route through the mountains into Pakistan? Well apparently the US predicted that escape route but refused to block it due to the high risk of casualties.

Within weeks, high-ranking British officers were saying privately that American commanders had vetoed a proposal to guard the high-altitude trails, arguing that the risks of a firefight, in deep snow, gusting winds and low-slung clouds, were too high. Similar accounts abound among Afghan commanders who provided the troops stationed on the Tora Bora foothills on the north side of the mountains, facing the Afghan city of Jalalabad. Those troops played a blocking role that left the Qaeda fugitives only one escape route, to the south, over the mountains to Pakistan.

Another commander, Hajji Zaher, said in an interview in Jalalabad that he had pleaded with Special Forces officers to block the trails to Pakistan. "The Americans would not listen, even when I told them that one word with me was worth more than $1 million of their high technology," said Mr. Zaher, 38. "Their attitude was, `We must kill the enemy, but we must remain absolutely safe.' This is crazy. If they had been willing to take casualties to capture Osama then, perhaps they'd have to take fewer casualties now."

How far are we really willing to go in the war on terror?


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