Friday, March 14, 2008

Bin Laden's translator

The capture of Muhammed Rahim, described as Osama Bin Laden's close aide and translator provides a momentary glimpse into the operations of Bin Laden's inner circle. The first question is why Osama Bin Laden needs a translator. The answer is apparently that Bin Laden himself is foreign to the area and cannot pass for native. CIA Director Hayden said:

Rahim was proficient in several languages and familiar with the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that he had combat experience dating back to the 1980s -- when U.S.-backed Islamic fighters drove Soviet forces out of Afghanistan.

Rahim apparently worked in a staff capacity is as well. "Prior to 2002, [Rahim] he worked with Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, an al Qaeda commander now detained at Guantanamo." Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi or Abdul Hadi the Iraqi, as he is sometimes known, was born in Mosul in 1961. He was a major in Saddam Hussein's Army who left to join Osama's Jihad in the late 1980s. A Newsweek article unaccountably claims that "in the palatial salons of the gulf states he [Abdul Hadi the Iraqi] has raised millions of dollars for Al Qaeda." How a Kurd like Rahim could gain entree into these palatial salons without further introduction is an interesting question. It suggests Bin Laden has a network of fundraisers and supporters throughout the Middle East. But by inference Rahim was part of the staff bureau through which Bin Laden coordinated his funding and strategic efforts in the region.

Interestingly, Rahim's arrest as described by the Pakistani Nation suggests he was no longer purely a translator. He was arrested in Lahore, some distance from the tribal frontier. Caught up within a proximate time frame in Peshawar was Sheikh Ilyas Khel, who is now apparently one of Bin Laden's translators. Two men in personal contact with Bin Laden were arrested in close conjunction in time but widely separated in space.

Al-Qaeda and Taliban have received another setback when their two important aides were arrested from different places in Pakistan, sources said Wednesday. Muhammad Rahim was arrested few days back from Lahore while Sheikh Ilyas Khel was netted from the general bus-stand in Peshawar, the sources maintained. According to them, Rahim was Osama bin Laden’s special aide, hailing from Nangarhar province of Afghanistan, while the other had worked for Laden as translator and guide during his stay in Afghanistan. Rahim was chief of Qaeda’s team, which was engaged in negotiations with the Afghan govt-nominated commanders including Hazrat Ali in early 2002.

One could speculate that Rahim had become too senior to merely translate and Bin Laden had obtained a new language assistant in Ilyas Khel. However that may be, the six month lagged snapshot shows an intelligence net closing in around Osama Bin Laden's immediate circle. The circumstances suggest that Bin Laden and his core group are definitely located in Pakistan, not within Afghanistan. No amount of troop buildup in Afghanistan will directly lead to the capture of Bin Laden. This is an "over the fence" problem.

It's reasonable to infer that Bin Laden himself now lives in a city attended by a few guards at most. A person requiring a translator (and as Khel shows that translator must sometimes leave his side) could not long operate undetected in a village environment. Plus, we know from Rahim and Abdul al Hadi's activities that Bin Laden needs to keep in touch with his Middle Eastern operatives. These two circumstances probably rule out a headquarters in the frontier mountains unless Bin Laden is willing to risk resorting to telecommunications. [It's interesting to note that the mere NSA capability to intercept comms deters al-Qaeda from using them except for very narrowband purposes.]

Therefore any decisive effort to "get Bin Laden" must take the shape of intelligence operations within Pakistan itself. A large military force to "get him" will not be needed. What's needed is information. So how far are the hounds from Bin Laden? We are looking at a seven-month old episode in the ongoing hunt for OBL and one can only assume the game has moved on. Although Rahim's arrest has only now made US news headlines, the article in the Pakistani Nation indicates that Osama must have known his inner defenses were breached as far back as August, 2007 which is unfortunate.

Whatever the newspapers claim, OBL must have assumed that Pakistani interrogation would be effective in prising secrets from his aides. (Safe house management 101 says you must always believe torture works) Right after the loss of his assistants, Osama would have almost certainly done two things: moved his safe house and detached himself from anyone who Khel and Rahim knew. (Safe house management 102) Considering that Rahim was an aide of long standing and must have known practically everyone in his inner circle the chore of building a wholly new network would have been extraordinarily difficult and in my view nearly impossible. The task is so hard I doubt whether Osama can long remain secure in Pakistan.

The Belmont Club is supported largely by donations from its readers.


Blogger Peter said...

whacking another mole is always a good thing, but there are so many moles.

The silence from the Western leaders about the state of the world, how to deal with aggressive Islamic countries and the soft jihad within, is deafening.

Maybe I've read too much history lately but one thing is clear - good results don't happen by accident.

3/14/2008 03:21:00 PM  
Blogger Triton'sPolarTiger said...

One must assume that it'd gall the moonbats to no end if Bin Laden is collected before the end of Bush's 2nd term...

Here's to hoping it happens!

3/14/2008 04:59:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Grynch said...

I think many decision makers in the West still mistakenly believe al Quada is a spider network: cut of the head (kill Bin Laden) and the spider dies.

In fact, al Quada is a starfish network: cut off the arm and a new one grows, and a new starfish will grow from the severed arm as well.

The two best ways to kill a starfish are to starve it (cut off al Quada's finances) and to get another starfish network to attack it. The high price of oil is removing the first option and we have had no success at the second.

3/14/2008 05:24:00 PM  
Blogger setitin said...

The End game is coming! Two for one on FARC in 10 days. Two for 1 on AQ within weeks(7 Months ago) only announced now. lets see the rats scatter and kill 'em all. Who thinks Bush is gonna check out "Texas Style" before He's done? My money is on Bush VRWC

3/14/2008 05:35:00 PM  
Blogger Dr. Sanity said...

If Osama is still alive (and I have doubts that he is) then his capture would be an enormous coup for the US and a significant psychological blow, not only to Al Qaeda, but to terrorists everywhere. Even thought his death will not "kill" the entire network, it might well be a significant injury that may eventually be fatal to the larger organism.

3/14/2008 06:55:00 PM  
Blogger said...

I wouldn't get my hopes up. It's always possible to trade off personal security against operational effectiveness. The more operationally active OBL is, the more exposed he becomes. On the other hand, he can attain almost perfect safety by running deep without coming up for air.

If survival were his only consideration, he can still survive a long time. The real contest will be between OBL's fears and his ambition.

My guess is that his operational days are over. OBL's most practical role is as an inspirational figurehead. Staying alive is about all he can hope for. But I wonder whether a man with his sense of self-importance can stay completely on the sidelines.

The telephone, writing pad, computer USB key, the emissary -- these are Osama's mortal temptations. My guess is that if the end comes it will be through the treachery of some young aide for whom the lure of money and what it can buy has not yet lost its allure. I think Osama, if he's still alive, will eventually fall. Not with guns blazing but as an aging, bewildered figure too small for his legend to contain.

3/14/2008 07:25:00 PM  
Blogger Cedarford said...

Wretchard - My guess is that if the end comes it will be through the treachery of some young aide for whom the lure of money and what it can buy has not yet lost its allure.

Generally, societies screen and select people very carefully who do VIP Security. The assassination of Indira Gandhi by her own security detail was an abherration and followed partial destruction of the Sikh's most sacred temple in Ahmritsar, which the two Sikh guards reacted to. At this stage we can be sure that those closest to Ayman and bin Laden are the most zealous and pure of heart, considering the Emirs safety a matter of personal religious faith, personal honor, family honor, tribal honor.

In the West we think everything has a price, Especially the Elites who worship money - who might not kill their own mothers for a million, but likely would find a price before 500 million was offered. But below them you have people of honor in America where they wouldn't do it for any sum of money they could ever imagine would satiate all their needs....and when you add onto that, all the extra reward that someone cannot conceive of spending as a price for betraying honor and burning in hell is just extraneous. Someone like a Secret Service agent.

Which explains why the 30 million buck rewards are mostly a joke 6 years after being 1st posted. The end may come, but unlikely from one of his selected protectors. An electronic mistake, maybe someone outside the phalanx of trusted loyalists - like ISI agents running their own little private search, a doctor Binnie has to go to, a lucky sighting by a local thinking somehow he won't be a dead man with a dead family if he turns America's most wanted in...

3/14/2008 11:56:00 PM  
Blogger said...

One of the people I got to know was bodyguard to Jose Maria Sison in the late 1970s. Sison is the current chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines and a designated terrorist.

To most Communists Sison was a revolutionary legend. But to his bodyguard, who was a Bontoc intellectual (a tribesman) Sison revealed himself to be a sham. He described Sison's routine to me, chuckling as he recited it: reading in the morning, making clippings from newspapers. A big lunch. Then a spot of writing in the afternoon. Sometimes to amuse himself Sison would regale his Bontoc bodyguard with his latest political theories.

Eventually he formed the opinion that Sison was the scum of the earth. But you're right. He would never have left Sison for money. Though eventually he left his old boss for nothing.

3/15/2008 12:51:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

Narrowing in on him, will the White House think it's more important to take him alive in order to parade him around in a cage, or to just bomb and kill the SOB and get it over with (so that Musharref might still have deniability)?

It would appear to me that Bush wants to take him alive.

3/15/2008 10:14:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...


3/15/2008 10:14:00 AM  
Blogger Sweating Through fog said...

Even if we knew exactly where he was, we have a dilemma that will inhibit effective action. The cost of operations in Pakistan to get him could be a revolution and a radical Islamic state with nukes.

There is no easy way to get him. Any military operation to get him would probably have to also include massive operations to seize Pakistani nukes.

3/15/2008 01:10:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

Bullshit. Super-commando 5 or 6 SEALS in, grab his skanky ass, and haul him over the next ridge, where a helicopter will be waiting to swoop in and pick the whole crew up.

And they're up up and away, Jose, before the hand of Allah knows what hit him.

Zing, zang, zong. What's the problem?

3/15/2008 02:20:00 PM  

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