Cable news is barraging us with propaganda. The Fox Newsers want everyone to believe that Bush-era torture cracked the Bin Laden case (not true
) -- while Ed Schultz, I am sorry to say, acted like a smarmy salesman tonight, sounding very much like Joe Isuzu as he relentlessly pushed the Democratic brand. Well, I suppose we should expect the spinners to spin; that's their job. The current euphoria will pass and Obama's poll numbers will soon sink -- hell, 56% approval is nothing to crow about, given these circumstances.
Congressmen are calling for a reassessment of our relations with Pakistan. This troubling development is based on what may be a wrong-headed understanding of the raid. I'm writing this post to suggest an alternative scenario.
The Pakistani government, for its part, has offered pro-forma denunciations of America for conducting a military operation in their country without their knowledge. The Pakistanis claim that they had no awareness
of the raid until it was a fait accompli
What surprises me is how many people in this country, Democrats and Republicans, accept this construction on its face. Two posts down, I linked to some fascinating evidence that America and Pakistan worked hand-in-hand on this operation. Alas, those links came toward the end of a massive post, which few read in its entirety.
So let's recap.The Nation
, a leading Pakistani newspaper, offers a persuasive picture of US/Pakistani cooperation in the raid. (Again, I have added paragraph breaks for readability.)
About 200 Pakistan Army men provided ground support, top level official sources told The Nation. During the operation, four helicopters of the Pakistan Army hovered over the fortress-like hideout of al-Qaeda chief at Thanda Choh, a relatively isolated area of Abbottabad’s otherwise posh locality Bilal Town that is barely a kilometre away from the Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul.
After completing aerial assessments, the four Pakistan Army helicopters were replaced by two US helicopters, ten minutes later.
Initially, the US military personnel opened fire at the outer wall of Osama’s hideout, which was retaliated by the house inmates with heavy gunfire. After almost twenty minutes of cross-firing, the US forces directly targeted the house with sophisticated bombs, eventually killing Osama, his eight bodyguards, seven close aides and an unspecified number of family members including a young son, children and two wives.
When the residents of the area, upon hearing heavy gunshots and explosions, came out of their homes or went up to the rooftops of their houses, Pakistani soldiers in helicopters threw search lights, instructing them to stay indoors. Besides initial aerial support, the Pakistan Army provided ground support by deploying ground troops within a radius of one kilometre of the operation area.
Is this account credible?TalkLeft
, one of the few American sites (right or left) to note the account in The Nation, calls it an "alternative reality." Perhaps it is "realer" than the reality we're getting from the American media. TalkLeft makes the usual snide remarks about the "rumor mill" being in overdrive -- but isn't that a rather ethnocentric assessment? After all, when a major American
newspaper quotes unnamed high-level military sources, we don't make snide comments about "the rumor mill." (Although perhaps we should.)
Consider this: Bin Laden lived within (or near) a heavily populated area. American military planners would not have wanted to carry out a raid of this sort -- it lasted over an hour -- with neighbors pouring out of their homes and wandering into a war zone. Innocent casualties would have made the administration look monstrous, especially if Osama was not in the compound. (Many news accounts have emphasized that the raiders were not 100% certain of his presence.) So it would have made sense to use Pakistani soldiers for crowd control.
A new story in the U.K.'s The Mirror
confirms that the neighbors were told to stay indoors. But in this instance, the tale is "conformed" to fit the official narrative of no U.S.-Pakistan cooperation.
SHADOWY men ordered Osama bin Laden’s neighbours to stay indoors minutes before the raid.
Residents believe the Pashtun-speaking visitors were CIA agents, recruited from Pakistan, who wanted to ensure no civilians were hurt.
Ali Bokhari, a Lincolnshire A&E doctor, originally from Abbottabad, said friends were visited in the night, adding: “Somebody came an hour before the operation started.
“They knocked on the door and said ‘there is going to be an operation against a drug dealer – stay inside as there is a chance of a gunfight’.”
I wonder how many residents believed that the visitors were CIA.
Then there's the mystery of the downed helicopter. Our government says that it was an American chopper. The Nation says that it was a Pakistani helicopter. Which version is right?
From the Nation version of events:
Till Monday morning, PMA officials maintained that a Pakistan Army helicopter had crashed near Bilal Town while carrying out routine strategic exercises.
PMA stands for Pakistan Military Academy. (They have a song,
and it's pretty catchy.) Bilal Town is the suburb of Abbottabad where Bin Laden lived. You may or may not want not want to read something into the use of the word "near."
Oddly enough, this story is partly confirmed by -- of all publications -- the Albuquerque Express
The two crashes have come less than 48 hours after the death of Osama bin Laden.
Two Pakistan military aircraft have crashed in separate incidents less than 48 hours after the world's most wanted terrorist Osama bin Laden was targeted and killed at a mansion in Abbottabad, 65 kilometres north of Islamabad.
A Pakistani army helicopter crashed on Tuesday night about 30 kilomtres from Abbottabad. There were a number of casualties including at least one fatality, according to local Urdu TV channel, Samaa.
That's awfully coincidental. At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist -- perish the thought! -- I should point out that, if a Pakistani helicopter did crash during the raid, the Pakistani military would have to come up with a quick cover story to explain the loss of life. Hypothetically speaking, of course.
Eyewitness Sahir Elahi, who lived yard away from Bin Laden's mansion, says that he saw no helicopter crash.
The American media has been downright strange when it comes to giving a straight story about the downing of this aircraft. Earlier tonight, I caught a cable news report which said that it came down due to an "unexpected updraft from a wall." I didn't know that hovering over a wall could bring down a Blackhawk, but apparently that event is possible.
We are now told that the helicopter was an MH-60 Blackhawk. The most in-depth account of the crash comes to us via Defense Tech
, which notes that there have been no reports of American casualties -- "which is impressive given the image above."
In any case, a chopper on final approach to a raid insertion could have been forced down by small arms fire (a lucky shot to the gearbox), brownout conditions where dust kicked up from the rotor wash interfere with the pilot’s ability to see, or it could have clipped some of the nearby power lines you can see in these pictures of the site (although there don’t appear to be any downed lines) or a combination of all factors. Or maybe, it really was mechanical failure. Keep in mind the raid was conducted around 1:00 in the morning so they were using night vision goggles. This goes to show just how tough missions like this are, even for the pilots of the 160th, whose skills are legendary in the helo community. Those pilots have also had weeks, at the minimum, to practice the mission at a site that was built to reflect the compound and its environs. So they probably knew where any potential obstacles were and how to avoid them.
That article evinced some interesting commentary:
One question so far unanswered: how did four helicopters enter and exist Pakistan without alerting air defense systems? I know that twin rotor Chinooks make a lot of noise, and OBL's compound was not in the middle of nowhere like Vietnam's Son Tay prison or Desert One in Iran. Given the proximity to the Pakistani military college, I'd assume that air defense missiles were around to ward off Indian air strikes. Is it possible that the Pakistani military was told to stand down in some way?
All of those speculating on this as if this was some "hidden from Pakistanis" sort of episode are mistaken. Some simple facts are as such that had the Pakistanis wanted to stop this operation (not that they wanted to), they have enough capability to saturate the airspace in and around the region with upwards of 250-300 fighter aircraft in a very short amount of time (I have seen this during the last Indian-Pak flare up). While the USAF and USN/USMC assets can handle this threat, the conduct of a unilateral 60 minute plus operation would have become impossible in these circumstances.
The simple explanation is the correct one which is that this was a joint operation. There was no choice but to give the Paks the ability to plausibly deny their participation for fear of blowback from TTP extremists within the country.
Some of the Defense Tech commenters have expressed doubt about the identification:
Does anybody else think that the tail section does not look like an MH-60. The tail planes are canted rearwards and the MH-60's are basically square.
It's an MH-60, no doubt.
But from the looks of the tail section wreckage... It might be the angle of photo but the Horizontal Stab looks a bit small to be a UH MH 60.
Now viewing more pic,s i don't believe it was a black hawk, stabilizer is swept and tail not cantered and wide on the photo shown on other sites.
We'll have to leave that
discussion for the experts. All I can do is link to this page
, which shows a variety of S-60s used in covert operations. I'm guessing that the MH-60k would be a likely candidate. Correction or confirmation from those in the know would be very much welcomed. I'd also like to know what kind of choppers are used by Pakistan's elite forces.
Although (arguably) only those in the military or aerospace should play the game of "identify the chopper," everyone is qualified play the game of "identify that wall." Compare the wall in the photo above to the walls seen in other shots of the Bin Laden compound.
(Click on the image to enlarge.) To my eyes, the differences between the walls are pronounced. I've seen several photos of the downed chopper. In none of them do I see any unambiguous visual reference to the now-familiar Bin Laden compound.
That said: Our visual data is, at present, quite limited. More photographs, and more video footage from the scene, may explain what now looks like a visual anomaly.
Let's look at a final issue. What happened to Bin Laden's family?
As you know, six sons, a daughter and a wife (identified as Amal al-Saddah
) were captured at the compound. They are now in Pakistani hands. To the best of my knowledge, the only published account about the actual capture is here
The US Special Forces only took two bodies with them in the military chopper; one is said to be bin Laden’s and the other his son’s. By the time Pakistani security agencies and soldiers arrived at the spot, the US commandos were flying over the mountains in the Pakistani tribal belt, well on their way to Afghanistan.
"The" chopper? We've received varying reports as to just how many were involved. (Although many reports say that only two took part, Defense Tech speaks of an indeterminate number, including Chinooks.) But let that pass.
What concerns me here is the image of the sons of Osama Bin Laden -- completely unguarded -- just hanging around the compound for long minutes, waiting for the Pakistani military to show up. No attempt to escape.
Well, maybe they were playing Quake.
Or maybe -- just maybe -- the Pakistanis had arrived along with
All in all, I would say that the preponderance of the evidence available at this time suggests that the government of Pakistan not only was aware of the raid, they participated in it. I may be wrong -- and of course, I'm perfectly willing to modify this view as new information comes in.
The motive for lying about Pakistani cooperation is obvious: America remains unpopular in that part of the world.