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.
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