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Expert: Osama bin Laden Probably Alive

CBS News consultant on terrorism Jere Van Dyk files an update on Osama bin Laden, conditions in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Osama bin Laden

I believe he is alive. I know Benazir Bhutto told David Frost on al-Jazeera (11/2/07) that he is dead. The most recent outside news suggesting bin Laden is still alive comes from Pakistan's The News where on 7/21 Rahimullah Yousafzai, the only reporter to interview OBL, Mullah Omar and al-Zawahiri, more than once, writes of OBL in the present tense. He has excellent jihadi and intel contacts.

On 6/3/09, on the eve of Obama's trip to Saudi Arabia, al Qaeda issued an OBL audio tape, which experts like Richard Clarke claim is valid.

His most recent video was 9/7/07. If you recall, in this one his beard was jet black. I didn't think at the time that he, a Wahhabi, most interested in jihad, would dye his beard to look younger. I have since been around Wahhabi fighters and have seen their vanity, their dyed beards; some men with young wives, like OBL, don't want to look old. He was 52 on March 10.

Al Qaeda has issued more than 60 messages since 9/11.

I don't think that OBL is in the tribal zones. His sons could certainly be there. Benazir, in her autobiography, Daughter of the East, said Musharraf warned her that Hamza bin Laden, one of OBL's teenage sons, was part of a group of "designated assassins" trying to kill her. See U.K.'s Telegraph of 7/21.

I'm told he is in Pakistan. Some believe he is in Saudi Arabia, others in Yemen. Michael Semple, former high official in the U.N. Mission in Afghanistan, co-author of an article in the current issue of Foreign Affairs on the Taliban, told me he thinks that OBL is hiding in a chateau in Europe.

The Telegraph (7/23) reports that some of OBL's family went to Islamabad after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Hamid Gul, former ISI head, told me that Gulbadeen Hekmaytier's family was living in Islamabad. The families of such men, one an Arab, the other a Pashtun, both with bounties on their heads, could not hide in a Punjabi city like Islamabad unless they had official protection.

The Death of Saad bin Laden

According to U.S. intelligence officials, Saad, 27, the oldest son of OBL's 19 children, may have been killed by a Predator missile in the tribal zones in the past several months. Officials base their assertion upon communication intercepts.

The U.S. has launched 45 missile attacks in the tribal zones since August 2008, more than it did under Bush. No one, it seems, has seen his body, nor is there a DNA sample.

Saad is said to have gone to Iran after 9/11 and returned to Pakistan in 2007. If he was killed, and if he was an active part of al Qaeda, it would be the most significant al Qaeda death, in the tribal zones, since 9/11.

Thus far, all the major al Qaeda figures have been captured or killed in Pakistan's "settled areas," or in major cities.

Unless Pakistan or the U.S. provides proof I would question this report. While the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies use phones and walkie-talkies, they, and Pakistan, are expert in the art of dissembling. The Taliban know when Predators appear overhead. They know the U.S. listens in on their conversations.

Al Qaeda and the Taliban fight together, but the Taliban are in charge. Contrary to what Petreaus says, al Qaeda is still in Afghanistan. Saeed bin Laden could have been there.

Pakistan, which provides much of the onsite intelligence to the U.S., would have its own reasons for saying he is dead, mainly to show the U.S. that it is providing good intelligence, anything, people say, to keep the aid money flowing.

The Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan

The Taliban will get stronger. They will continue to attack anyone attached to the West, and to the Karzai government, to weaken morale. According to USA Today (7/9) there were 736 IEDs in June.

The war has now become the second longest in U.S. history. The U.S. is losing this war itself. As Abdullah Abdullah, the presidential candidate with, it seems, the best chance to force Karzai into a runoff, said in speech in Herat (New York Times, 7/24) "Because of abuses and bombings by U.S. and NATO forces stationed here, people have started to hate the foreign troops."

Karzai is promising that, if re-elected, he will renegotiate the status of foreign soldiers in Afghanistan.

According to The Times of London online (7/24), "The conduct of U.S. troops is the biggest issue in the Afghan presidential debate."

Time noted on 7/10 that the U.S. and its allies killed 838 civilians in 2008. "There is no question that the situation has deteriorated over the past two years," said Petraeus.

Every Afghan seems to know of the 650 plus men in prison in Bagram, of Gitmo. They will know of the Afghanistan Human Rights Commission story (Reuters 5/9) of the U.S. torturing a 12 year old boy there. Men talk of secret U.S. prisons. These things drive people into the arms of the Taliban.

McChrystal told The Washington Post on 7/10 that "The Afghan people are our mission." Yes.

The Taliban cannot survive on their own. Every Taliban group I was with had contact with tribal chiefs and with villagers, and not just isolated villages high up in the mountains. Their leaders go back and forth across the border. The U.S. is often dependent upon its interpreters. They have families. The Taliban know who they are.

The U.S. Marines in Helmand (NY Times 7/8) acknowledge that the Afghans are not going to tell them the truth.

Holbrooke, asked, rhetorically (AP 7/26) "Do you want the Afghanistan people to abandon the election in the face of a small band of Taliban."

According to The Wall Street Journal (7/9) the U.S. just awarded $15.5 billion in contracts to Fluor and DynCorp to build new U.S. bases in Afghanistan. This small band is tough. The Dallas Business Journal (7/8) reports that Fluor will supply 74 U.S. bases in northern Afghanistan.

This is a story. A relatively small group of young men have forced the U.S. and its allies, soon to number 91,000, and to maybe surpass the number of Soviet soldiers here in the 1980s, with bases all around the country, into a real fight. The NY Times, on 7/25, quoting U.S. soldiers, says the Taliban stand and fight, they maneuver. They do not fire and run like insurgents in Iraq.

They will not give in. They, unlike al Qaeda in Iraq, are fighting for their homeland. For them, this is a nationalist war, as well as a religious war. Their goal is martyrdom. Their reward is Paradise.

Malalai Joya, the most courageous public woman in Afghanistan (worthy of a story), wrote in The Guardian on 7/25, that "Sending more troops and expanding the war into Pakistan will only add fuel to the fire."

Cronkite talked of a stalemate in Vietnam. Be wary of one here.


The main story is the fear of the Talibinazation of Pakistan. Why is it growing? How is it growing?

On 7/23, Natasha Yefimov, assistant to N. Kristoff, columnist at The NY Times, wrote in an online column that scoring to the Jamestown Foundation, the Taliban will next focus their war on Karachi, the commercial capital of Pakistan. About 75% of the materiel for the war in Afghanistan comes by boat to Karachi and is then shipped overland up to Afghanistan. Newsweek this week echoed this feeling.

The Taliban plan to continue to try to cut the U.S. supply routes into Afghanistan. Karachi is the second largest Pashtun city, after Peshawar, in the world. Pashtuns were settled there as refugees during the 1980s.

The suicide attacks continue, in Peshawar and even in Lahore, but few, if any, have ever been investigated. Even the U.N. investigation into the death of Benazir is being controlled.

Another story idea: Lashkar-e-Taiba (Army of the Pure), the Pakistani jihadi organization, said to be responsible for the Mumbai attacks. LeT now operates under the banner of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (Islamic Missionary Organization). It is tied to al-Qaeda. It is tied to the Taliban. It was created by the Pakistani army. Its recruits are young and unmarried, thus able to devote all their time to jihad.

The NY Times noted on 7/25 that "Obama administration officials are trying to understand the state of relations between Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Taiba." To understand LeT is to go to the heart of the jihadi movement in South Asia.

Story idea: The U.S. House of representatives recently passed spending bills allocating $2.7 billion to Afghanistan and $1.5 billion to Pakistan. The U.S. has now given over $11 billion to Pakistan since 9/11. Where does this money go?

On 7/26 Foreign Minister Quershi, under pressure from the U.S., said that Pakistan would no longer protect the Quetta shura, meaning Mullah Omar. We shall see.

Final story idea: Journalists under fire. According to the AP (7/26) there were about 2,000 journalists in Pakistan in 2001. Under Musharraf's liberalization program the number went up to 20,000, largely in radio and television. Five journalists were killed in 2008, 45 since 2001. Pakistan, like Iraq (11 killed last year) and Somali are the most dangerous places for journalists in the world.

Jere Van Dyk spent a number of months from 2006 - 2008 along the Afghan-Pakistani border. Beginning, September 2007, he crossed four times over the mountains into the tribal zones of Pakistan, and was with the Taliban five times, on both sides of the border.

He has written a book about part of these experiences which will be published by Times Books, date to be announced. It will be an inside look at the Taliban, based upon his experiences in Afghanistan and Pakistan as a journalist over the years, and as a consultant to the U.S. government in the 1980s.

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