Counter-Terrorism: Fighting Celebrities

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December28, 2006: Where is Osama bin Laden, and why hasn't he been caught? It's been two years since Osama made a public statement via video. His buddy, and second in command (and real brains behind the organization), Ayman al Zawahiri's rant just before Christmas was the first time he'd been heard from in an unusually long time. Although they've both almost certainly gone into very deep hiding, certainly in Pakistan, we must have gotten close a couple of times. In any event, it's all very strange.

The CIA has a number of people with experience, and connections, in the Pushtun tribal areas, and these guys have proved, over the years, capable to getting things done, or at least obtaining information, in the tribal areas. But the degree of secrecy about American operations in this region has been extraordinary. Most of what does come out, is stories of talks with tribal chiefs and elders, and long stakeouts by Special Forces recon teams, followed by occasional glimpses of what might have been a key target. American commandos have been particularly polite and well behaved in the tribal areas, apparently on the theory that the fewer enemies they have there, the better. The Special Forces do have friends in the region. Periodically, the Taliban or al Qaeda will very publicly execute several locals for being "American spies." But still, no luck bringing in half a dozen or so prime targets. Apparently the tribesmen consider bin Laden and his key aides to be be big celebrities. So even $25 million rewards do not overcome the shame of being tagged as the guy who betrayed an icon. However, what has come out of the hills is that an increasing number of tribesmen are tempted, if only because al Qaeda's celebrity status has been degraded by the lack of attacks on the U.S., and the growing number of Moslems killed by al Qaeda in places like Iraq.

Killing either of bin Laden or al Zawahiri will probably have more of an impact on events in Afghanistan than on the overall war on Islamist extremism, but it would certainly help.

 


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