The 9-11 Decade: Hunting down Al-Qaeda

The Al Jazeera network is uniquely able to report on the war on terror because it draws on information all sides.  We Americans mostly get our government’s propaganda version, as transmitted by CNN and the other U.S. networks, while Al Jazeera shows the world as people outside the United States see it.  In this particular documentary,  Al Jazeera relied mainly on U.S. sources, including certain retired CIA employees, and.

Overall the documentary enhances the reputation of U.S. intelligence agencies.  The Central Intelligence Agency figured out long before the 9-11 attacks that Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda network were a particularly dangerous threat to the United States.  The National Security Agency by surveillance of telephone calls traced Osama bin Laden to his hideout in Afghanistan.

President Bush said the purpose of invading Afghanistan was to apprehend bin Laden “dead or alive.”  But the Pentagon decided – against the CIA’s advice, the retired CIA officials said – to outsource the mission of apprehending bin Laden to Afghan warlords, partly because they knew the territory but also because American troops were needed for the impending invasion of Iraq.  As a result, bin Laden escaped into Pakistan.   Al Jazeera journalists retraced bin Laden’s escape route.

One of the CIA’s great successes was the capture of Abu Zubaydah, who, according to the documentary, was in charge of the logistics of moving Al Qaeda members and supplies from Afghanistan to Pakistan and the rest of the world.  They knew that he was in one of 14 safe houses in a city in Pakistan, and they successfully raided all 14 simultaneously.  This gave them a trove of information on Al Qaeda members, plans, codes and sources of supply.  However, the Bush administration had other priorities besides tracking down Al Qaeda.

The United States, from the Civil War to the Korean Conflict, has won (I would argue the U.S. won in Korea) through use of superior firepower.  Starting with the Vietnam Conflict, the enemies of the United States have found ways of negating U.S. firepower and even a judo-like way of using this U.S. strength to their own advantage.

So it was in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.  The only way in which application of firepower helped in bringing down Al Qaeda was in driving Osama bin Laden from his mountain stronghold in Afghanistan to a more accessible hideout in a city in Pakistan.  In the end Osama bin Laden was destroyed not by bombings and drone attacks, but by detective work and effective covert action.

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