Kim Sengupta: Why Bush's 'dead or alive' posse haven't got their man

Share
Related Topics

The rumour spread through Kabul with astonishing speed. Osama bin Laden had been injured and captured, or actually killed. That was Kabul in June, as the Afghan war became increasingly violent with wave after wave of suicide bombings. But the mention of Bin Laden on the journalistic, military and diplomatic grapevine had an electrifying effect, vividly illustrating the mystique that surrounds the man who has come to epitomise terrorism on a spectacular scale for the West.

The tale at the time was that a top secret American and British unit had tracked down the founder of al-Qa'ida in the Wakkan Corridor, on the northern edge of Pakistan. Like previous reports it turned out to be baseless. Seven years after the September 11 attacks on America, Bin Laden remains as elusive as ever.

The Americans have recently started devoting greater resources to the hunt for the man on the top of their most wanted list. George Bush, it seems, wants the man he vowed to capture "dead or alive" before he leaves office. There have also been reports of Bin Laden at various points in Pakistan's border region, some of them placing him in north Waziristan where the "Pakistani Taliban" is the de facto ruler after a series of deals with the government in Islamabad. There have also been reports that the US came close to killing Ayman al-Zawahiri, deputy leader of al-Qa'ida, in air strikes.

But US and British commanders privately admit they are seriously hampered by a lack of intelligence about the whereabouts of the al-Qa'ida leadership. They cannot depend on the ISI, the Pakistani secret service, which is widely perceived to back Islamist terrorists.

The failure of the hunt has added to the frustration at lost opportunities in the past. After the fall of the Taliban in 2001, Bin Laden was holed up in Tora Bora with American and Afghan troops attempting to box him in. But the refusal of Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, to deploy additional troops allowed him and his chief lieutenants to escape into Pakistan.

In March 2003, there was credible information that Bin Laden and many of those closest to him were in the Pech Valley in Kunar, the teams hunting al-Qa'ida called for an immediate operation in the area. But by then Bush and Tony Blair had moved the "war on terror" to Iraq and Saddam Hussein was the top prize, not Bin Laden.

Early in 2006, the Saudi dissident made several audiotaped statements, and another appeared on a website in July 2007, but it was not clear from the content when it had been recorded. No videotaped recordings of him have been released since October 2004.

In July 2006, the CIA unit tasked with hunting Bin Laden, codenamed Alec Station, was closed. Iraq was still the main focus of Washington's attention and it was felt resources were needed there.

The task of finding Bin Laden, said a senior security official, is now more difficult than ever. "Since the elections in Pakistan we have got to be more careful about carrying out air raids across the border, although if we have a sniff of locating Bin Laden there'll be no compunction about ordering a strike, but I wouldn't bet on when that will be."

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
An investor looks at an electronic board showing stock information at a brokerage house in Shanghai  

China has exposed the fatal flaws in our liberal economic order

Ann Pettifor
Jeremy Corbyn addresses over a thousand supporters at Middlesbrough Town Hall on August 18, 2015  

Thank God we have the right-wing press to tell us what a disaster Jeremy Corbyn as PM would be

Mark Steel
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future