Tuesday, May 10, 2011

More on the bin Laden Operation

A lot of questions have been raised in connection with the operation carried out by the US to neutralise bin Laden. The Indian weekly Outlook (issue dated May 16, 2011) in its cover story on the killing of Osama bin Laden has raised questions on the raid titled “Eight Question Marks in Abbottabad.” The author has made an attempt to answer the questions raised both in Pakistan and outside in this post as well as in the earlier post. The questions and the author's answers are as follows:

1. The Choppers: Were there two or four? How many SEALS were involved, 20 or 79? If one chopper collapsed, could the lone returning one carry them all, plus Osama?

Answer: There were four, two of which were believed to be Chinooks. In all, 79 SEALS were part of the team that went to Abbottabad. However, two dozens SEALS actually took part in the raid on Waziristan Haveli. The rest probably formed the reserve or back-up team. The Chinooks have capacity to ferry about 50 to 55 troops.

2. The Take – Off: Where did the choppers take off from, Jalalabad in Afghanistan or Tarbela in Pakistan? Could they have hovered on without the Pak army or its radars noticing?

Answer: The choppers took off most probably from Tarbela Ghazi Airbase in north-west Pakistan. Two of the choppers used were probably modified MH-60s. It is believed that the MH-60S has no offensive sensors but can carry the ALQ-144 Infrared Jammer.

3. The Town: Local residents, including coffee-shop owner Shoaib Athar who live-tweeted the incident, say power had been cut off in Abbottabad 40 mins earlier. Was this a routine outage?

Answer: The town was known to have power cuts. Hence this seemed to be a routine affair.

4. The Police: At whose orders was the Pashto-speaking local police shooing away residents of Abbottabad who wondered about the choppers and the “big blast” creating a blaze in the sky?

Answer: According to BBC Urdu, when the helicopters landed outside (it appears that two of the choppers carrying the back-up team landed outside Waziristan Haveli), men emerged from the aircraft and spoke to locals in Pashto. The members of the CIA’s Special Activities Division possess the ability to converse in local language.

5. The Gunfight: Why has the narrative ranged from a “firefight throughout the operation” to “the only shots fired by those in the compound came at the beginning of the operation”?

Answer: The US Administration made several changes to the narratives in the days following the operation, some of which were contradictory. One can only guess that different versions were given by different officials leading to some sort of confusion.

6. The Capture: If he had an AK-47 and a Makarov pistol at arm’s reach, why didn’t Osama use them? If he was unarmed, as it is now being said, why was he shot so brutally for his photo not to be shown?

Answer: The raids such as the present one are not an orderly affair; there is very little intelligence on the exact number of residents, whether they are armed or otherwise and very little time for decision-making. The raiding team certainly was not expected to give the quarry time to surrender. Also, this was an operation primarily meant to neutralize the Al Qaeda chief – it was an ‘operation designed to kill’. A woman resident was also killed in the cross-fire.

7. The Families: Apart from Osama’s, there were two other families in Waziristan Haveli. Five of the 23 residents were killed, the rest were tied up and left behind. Have they spoken to the officials yet?

Answer: The US has sought access to the widow or widows of bin Laden. News reports indicate that Pakistan has agreed to permit US officials to interrogate the youngest wife of bin Laden.

8. The Burial: US says Osama’s body was ferried to USS Carl Vinsen and buried in the North Arabian Sea, with due Islamic rites. Was an Imam readily available on board the ship, or was US prepared for only one eventuality: Osama dead.

Answer: As stated in answer to Question No. 6, it appears that taking Laden alive was a remote possibility considering the nature of the operations. However, it is now emerging that two specialist teams were on standby, probably on the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson in the Arabian Sea: one to bury Bin Laden if he was killed, and a second team of lawyers, interrogators and translators if he was taken alive.

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