One of bin Laden's wives reportedly told interrogators this week that her husband moved around Pakistan frequently. Terry McDermott on why the government might have truly been ignorant.
In December 2001, in the mountains of the Pashtun belt in eastern Afghanistan, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah convened a meeting of the remnants of al Qaeda, who were fleeing the American assault on their Afghan hideouts. Mohammed, otherwise known as KSM, and Zubaydah wanted to bring some order to the retreat.
Unidentified Pakistani officials and police officers in mid March stand inside an Islamabad house, where family members of slain al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden are believed to be held. (Anjum Naveed / AP Photo )
The ferocity of the American counterattack after 9/11 had not been anticipated, and the al Qaeda fighters were running for their lives, like cockroaches running around after the light had been turned on, as one American intelligence operative put it. “Shit,” KSM later told an American interrogator, “we’ve awakened a sleeping bear ... I think we bit off more than we could chew.”
Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri were in hiding. Mohammed Atef, al Qaeda’s operational commander, had been killed in an aerial bombardment. The organization’s remaining chain of command was disintegrating. KSM and Zubaydah stepped in to bring some order to the chaos.
Unlike most of al Qaeda’s top operatives, the two of them had been living mainly in Pakistan for most of a decade—Zubaydah in Peshawar in the northwest and KSM in Karachi in the south. Even before the attacks, they had organized a collection of dozens of safe houses throughout Pakistan (they had more than 20 in Karachi alone), many of them operated by jihadi groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, and Lashkar-e-Taiba.
The militant groups were a classic Pakistani creation. Most originated in the 1980s with full support and funding from the Pakistan spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, ISI, as frontline resistance to India in the disputed territory of Kashmir. Dozens of groups were supported by the ISI as they morphed and splintered over the years, and ISI officers established their training regimens and sat on councils to plan strategy and attacks. Within Pakistan’s urban areas the jihadi network was omnipresent. KSM had cultivated relationships throughout this underground.
After 9/11, the groups became indispensable in organizing the retreat from Afghanistan. KSM’s connections helped al Qaeda fighters regroup in Pakistan by providing money, logistics, safe havens, and a ready army of trustworthy foot soldiers. He was the bridge between the largely Arab al Qaeda leadership and its allies in Pakistan.
KSM was born and raised in Kuwait, but his family was from Pakistan. He spoke the local languages and moved easily among its citizens. His family were members of a tightly bound ethnic group called the Baluch, who live throughout southwestern Pakistan and eastern Iran. KSM used these blood ties to build his own network. Fellow Pakistanis, including some who had also grown up in Kuwait, became his trusted lieutenants and couriers. They transported men, money, and messages throughout the region. They helped operate dozens of safe houses, havens from which al Qaeda could bide its time for future attacks.
In a leaked police summary, the al Qaeda leader’s youngest wife told an intriguing tale. But at least one expert investigator says it doesn’t hold up. Jahanzeb Aslam reports.
The troubling questions about Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts didn’t stop with his death last May in Pakistan. On the contrary, they grew louder and angrier following the discovery that the al Qaeda leader had been living with his three wives and several of his children only a mile or so down the road from the Pakistani equivalent of West Point. Now the subject has turned hotter than ever, thanks to the revelation of testimony given to Pakistani investigators by his youngest wife, Amal Ahmad Abdul Fateh. The investigators’ report tells an intriguing tale of the family’s travels all across Pakistan in the past ten years. The paraphrased summary, first reported by the English-language daily Dawn, claims not only that bin Laden lived in Pakistan for almost 10 years until his death, but also that Fateh also gave birth to two of his children in government-run hospitals as the family repeatedly moved from safe house to safe house before settling down in Abbottabad.
Pakistani police officers stand guard as authorities use heavy machinery to demolish the compound of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan on Feb. 26, 2012. (Anjum Naveed / AP Photo )
But did the 30-year-old widow tell the truth? “She is embellishing and, in some cases, outright lying about the circumstances of bin Laden’s life in Pakistan,” Shaukat Qadir told The Daily Beast in a telephone interview. After bin Laden’s death, Pakistan Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani granted Qadir unrivaled access to the al Qaeda leader’s house and to Army officials involved in the official investigation. The retired Pakistan Army brigadier has spent months—and more than $10,000 of his own money—investigating the circumstances whereby bin Laden took up residence in Abbottabad, and he says his findings don’t mesh with the information provided by bin Laden’s youngest widow. “They lived in Haripur, this is true, but those children were not born in any government-run hospital as alleged by her,” he says. Asked to elaborate, he implied that Pakistan’s intelligence agencies may have had a hand in bin Laden’s concealment, but stopped short of saying so. “They [the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate] were doing a lot during those days. A lot. But I cannot discuss that further.”
The leaked document, dated kept Jan. 19 and apparently kept under wraps for more than two months, couldn’t have come at a worse time for Pak-U.S. ties. A day prior to its release, Centcom chief Gen. James Mattis and Gen. John Allen, the head of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, held top-level talks with Kayani and Gen. Khalid Wynne, the chairman of Pakistan’s joint chiefs of staff. The four generals discussed cross-border coordination—a sticking point ever since Nov. 26, when NATO forces mistakenly engaged Pakistani forces at two border posts on the Salala ridge, killing as many as two dozen—and other bilateral matters. The discussions appeared to signal a softening of Pakistan’s turn against America –particularly against NATO’s involvement in Afghanistan.
A day earlier U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani met on the sidelines of a nuclear summit in Seoul and pledged to restore ties that have yet to recover from last May’s U.S. raid on Pakistani soil, which resulted in bin Laden’s death. “I welcome the fact that the Parliament of Pakistan is reviewing, after some extensive study, the nature of this relationship,” Obama told journalists at the event. “I think it’s important to get it right. I think it’s important for us to have candid dialogue, to work through these issues.” Gilani seemed amenable to that hope. “We want stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” the prime minister said. “We want to work together with you.”
That won’t be as easy as it might sound. Pakistan’s Parliamentary Committee on National Security is working to establish a new framework for relations between Pakistan and the United States. Today the committee’s head, Sen. Raza Rabbani, announced that the committee would present its recommendations to the National Assembly next week. The committee’s report is likely to include a demand that America end all drone attacks inside Pakistan in exchange for reopening NATO’s main Afghan supply route, which was shut down in retaliation for the Salala incident. As unattainable as that deal may be, it’s far more realistic than the committee’s earlier demands, which included a civil-nuclear agreement and an arrangement to shift half of NATO’s supply transport to the beleaguered Pakistan Railways. In any case, analysts predict that the committee’s report—however unhelpful—will have little effect on the Pakistani-U.S. peace process.
But how will Washington deal with suspicions that Pakistani intelligence may have helped bin Laden escape justice for nearly 10 years? The belief that the ISI was complicit in hiding him is hardly new—Qadir’s words have been echoed by Pakistani lawmakers, analysts, former soldiers, and even retired CIA officials. Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow in the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center at the Brookings Institution and a regular contributor to The Daily Beast, has argued that the ISI was either complicit or clueless about bin Laden’s whereabouts. “His wives knew how to find him and he directed a global terror empire from his hideouts, ordering murder around the world,” he told me via email. “Until we know which it was—incompetence or partnership—U.S.-Pakistan relations will be haunted by this question.”
Or maybe they won’t. “It is very unlikely that the U.S. will pursue this issue,” says Hasan-Askari Rizvi, an independent political and defense analyst who travels between Pakistan and America. “The major concern right now is restoring the NATO supply lines—not worrying about something that is now ancient history.” Besides, he says, there’s no way to verify Fateh’s claims: “For all we know, she could be lying.” With regard to her testimony, he says it would be in Pakistan’s best interest just to close this chapter and move on. In fact, the police summary ends with an order that she and her five children be deported immediately, since they are residing in Pakistan illegally. In order to avoid further embarrassment and repair its U.S. ties, Islamabad could do worse than follow this advice.
While on the run shuttling between five houses.
What a "martyr." Osama bin Laden apparently didn't have such a bad experience on the run, since he had time to father four children, and owned five houses that he moved among, according to The New York Times, which cited a testimony given by bin Laden's youngest wife to Pakistani investigators. The 30-year-old Amal Ahmad Abdul Fateh's police report offers the most detailed account yet of bin Laden's nine-year-long hiding, though questions persist about how he was able to remain undetected, and whether he got substantial help from the Pakistanis.
So “totally unprepared” Biden would take over.
Osama bin Laden, before he was killed last year, had ordered al Qaeda to kill President Obama by attacking his aircraft, administration officials told The Washington Post Friday. “The reason for concentrating on them,” bin Laden reportedly explained to his top lieutenant, according to one of the documents taken from his compound when U.S. forces raided it and took him out last May, “is that Obama is the head of infidelity, and killing him automatically will make [Vice President Joe] Biden take over the presidency … Biden is totally unprepared for that post, which will lead the U.S. into a crisis.” Officials apparently said the plot was never a serious threat.
Former lawmakers again stir suspicions that the hijackers had help. The evidence is murky, but critics believe that American investigators have not dug hard enough.
Since 2002, when former senator Bob Graham led the Joint Intelligence Committee Inquiry (JICI) into the 9/11 attacks, he has insisted that members of the Saudi government played a role. But he’s had a hard time getting others to listen.
The World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 (Robert Giroux / Getty Images)
“There’s no question in my mind that the Saudi government was involved in 9/11,” the Florida Democrat tells The Daily Beast. “But there’s still so much we don’t know. Unfortunately, many Americans seem to have lost interest.”
The issue was revived last month when The New York Times reported that Graham and former senator Bob Kerrey, a Democrat from Nebraska, had given affidavits in an ongoing lawsuit against Saudi Arabia over compensation for families of the 9/11 victims. “I am convinced that there was a direct line between at least some of the terrorists who carried out the September 11th attacks and the government of Saudi Arabia,” Graham said in the affidavit. In a separate affidavit, Kerrey said, “Evidence relating to the plausible involvement of possible Saudi government agents in the September 11th attacks has never been fully pursued.”
In the weeks and months following 9/11, allegations that Saudi royals supported the suicide hijackers’ plot were investigated extensively by Newsweek and many other media outlets. In its final report, the 9/11 Commission, which is separate from the JICI, found “no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi individuals funded” the 9/11 terrorists.
Lee Hamilton, the former Indiana congressman and vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, tells The Daily Beast, “We looked quite carefully at [possible Saudi involvement] and even sent investigators over there, and we found no hard evidence of any linkage to the hijackers. At the end of the day, you have to have hard evidence. Having said that, I will also say that despite our thorough investigation, a lot of questions about 9/11 remain unanswered.”
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Graham says, “The three primary questions that remain for me are: what was the extent of involvement by Saudi officials in 9/11, what was their motivation, and why has the U.S. government gone to such lengths to cover it up?”
Graham believes Washington should launch a new investigation that would attempt to answer these questions. He says the 9/11 Commission’s final report does not exonerate the Saudis, and insists that neither the media nor federal law enforcement ever got to the bottom of the plot.
From Pakistani custody.
The Taliban on Friday pledged to attack the Pakistani government, police, and military officials if three of Osama bin Laden’s widows are not released from custody. Pakistan’s government on Thursday charged the three women with illegally entering and staying in the country, and a spokesman for the Taliban said there would be “suicide bombings” if the women were not released “as soon as possible.” Pakistan has interviewed the women to find how bin Laden managed to stay in the county undetected. The Tehrik-e-Taliban, the wing of the Taliban that vowed revenge, has carried out high-profile attacks against Pakistan since bin Laden’s death, including bombing an American consulate and taking siege of an American naval base.
Pakistani officials have released the testimony of the three wives living with Osama bin Laden when he was killed. Apparently, Pakistani intelligence hoped this testimony would direct suspicion away from its door, but it does quite the opposite.
Osama bin Laden’s wives have now told their story of the last decade of the al Qaeda’s leader’s life on the run. They were arrested by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) after the U.S. Navy SEALs left his hideout last May with his dead body. The wives’ tales have been released by the ISI through a trusted former Pakistani army general’s account for obvious reasons. The ISI wants to draw attention away from its own possible complicity in hiding bin Laden and toward other issues. But the details in the wives’ story actually only increase the question marks about possible ISI complicity.
Osama bin Laden’s wives have now told their story of the last decade of the al Qaeda’s leader’s life on the run. (AP Photo)
High-value target No. 1, bin Laden was surrounded by his family in the villa in which he hid for six years inside the city of Abbottabad, Pakistan. Three of his wives, eight of his children, and five of his grandchildren were with him. The ISI has debriefed them all, and now it has allowed a retired Army officer access to the interrogation reports and to the hideout itself. It wants to portray bin Laden’s decade on the run after the fall of Afghanistan in the best possible light, suggesting he was ill and inactive, surrounded by family quarrels. Since the current director general of ISI, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, is about to be replaced, this may also be Pasha’s attempt to clear his own name from the charge that he was either totally incompetent for not finding bin Laden for years or complicit in hiding him.
The key character in the story is bin Laden’s last and youngest wife, a Yemeni girl named Amal that he married in 1999 just before the al Qaeda attack on the USS Cole in Aden harbor in Yemen. Amal was with bin Laden almost all of the rest of his life and was probably his favorite. In the ISI’s interrogations, she says he fled from Tora Bora in Afghanistan in late 2001 and moved to the Pakistani city of Kohat, near Peshawar, where he met with Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the tactical mastermind of the 9/11 plot, at least once. KSM was captured in Pakistan’s military capital, Rawalpindi, on March 1, 2003. Bin Laden moved around Waziristan, Pakistan’s lawless frontier district in 2003, then to the Swat valley north of the capital of Islamabad for a few months. In 2004 he settled into a house in Haripur only 20 miles from the capital before moving to the Abbottabad hideout in 2005. There he was about 30 miles from the capital, an hour’s drive. So he was in Pakistan for almost 10 years, mostly in settled urban centers, not caves in the remote tribal boondocks.
Amal also claims he had a kidney transplant in 2002. The story is vague as to where the operation took place, some accounts say Karachi, others suggest outside of Pakistan. So he was in a hospital somewhere in Pakistan or traveling abroad right when the ISI was supposed to be hot on the chase. Amal suggests that life in the house became more difficult in early 2011, when bin Laden’s eldest wife, a Saudi named Khairiah Saber, arrived in the compound after living in Iran since 2001. Khairiah, along with one of bin Laden’s sons and several of his closest lieutenants, had gone west into Iran after the fall of Kandahar instead of east into Pakistan like most of al Qaeda. After a decade of house arrest, the Iranians let the al Qaeda exiles go in late 2010 under mysterious circumstances. Their release may have been an exchange for an Iranian diplomat al Qaeda had kidnapped or it may have been part of a gradual rapprochement between Tehran and al Qaeda (or both). Apparently, the two ladies did not get along.
The picture that emerges is of a busy household and of a hideout that was well known to the al Qaeda core leadership, enough that the boss’s lost wife could find her way to it. Other information that has come out in the last month also shows that bin Laden communicated from the hideout with the leadership of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the so-called Army of the Pure that terrorized Mumbai in November 2008, killing six Americans, and with Mullah Omar, the head of the Afghan Taliban, NATO’s main enemy in Afghanistan. Both are very close to the ISI. The head of Lashkar-e-Taiba openly mourned bin Laden after his death and has been traveling around Pakistan since late last year holding massive rallies calling for jihad against America and India. The ISI is sponsoring his campaign. The Taliban also mourned bin Laden’s death last May.
Abbottabad is not your normal Pakistani city. It was founded by Sir James Abbott in January 1853 to be a garrison city for the British East India Co.’s army. It is still a military town. Three regiments call it home, as does Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point, the Kakul Military Academy, which is less than a kilometer from bin Laden’s hideout. It is so well guarded that in 2009 Pakistan held its first ever counterterrorism training exercise with China in Abbottabad because it was super secure. The head of Afghan intelligence has said he told then–Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf in 2006 that his sources believed bin Laden was somewhere near Abbottabad. Musharraf brushed him off.
In 2007, a former Pakistani ambassador and I were attending a conference in Doha. I asked where the ambassador thought bin Laden was hiding. The ambassador said probably in a safe house built by the ISI inside a military compound. After the SEALs found bin Laden, the country’s biggest English-language newspaper published an op-ed that said that the Army knew he was there for years. So many Pakistanis have suspected ISI complicity for years.
After nightfall today, crews began destroying the Abbottabad complex where Osama Bin Laden was killed in 2011. Demolition of the compound walls can be seen in this footage obtained by MSNBC.
This week's Newsweek cover story profiles these Special Ops, Obama's fine-tuned killing machine. Daniel Klaidman on why the SEALs are having a moment.
At a time when many Americans think their government is inept, the ‘Special Operators’ get the job done. Just ask the President, who is doubling down on the Navy SEALs.
One of President Obama’s earliest kills came in April 2009. Somali pirates had stormed the Maersk Alabama, a U.S. container ship steaming across lawless waters off the Horn of Africa. The American crew of the ship had tried to overwhelm the pirates, who fled on a covered lifeboat, taking with them a 53-year-old hostage: ship captain Richard Phillips. Armed with AK-47s and pistols, the pirates stashed Phillips below deck and threatened to kill him if they didn’t get $2 million in ransom.
Barack Obama, not yet three months into his presidency, had already undergone a crash course in battlefield management. He had authorized drone strikes in Pakistan and sent 17,000 troops into Afghanistan. But until now, he had not experienced the personal immediacy and political risk of a kill operation involving an American hostage—one that would play out largely in public view. Nor had he worked with SEAL Team 6, the elite “tier one” commandos who carry out many of the darkest missions in the shadow wars.
Early on in the standoff, the Navy had requested permission to use force, but the White House held back. Military commanders had already dispatched a small armada to the scene, including a destroyer, the USS Bainbridge, and a frigate, the USS Halyburton. Transport planes ferried in the SEALs, who parachuted into the Indian Ocean with inflatable boats. On April 11, three days after the hostage taking began, Obama agreed to the use of military force—but only if the captain’s life was in imminent danger.
As Obama’s military advisers monitored events in the White House Situation Room, the president popped in for regular updates. SEAL Team 6 snipers were positioned on different ships to maximize the chances of getting off clean shots. At one point, the Navy laid a kind of a trap for the hostage vessel, but the pirates, by sheer luck, “waltzed” around it, according to a source involved in the operation. All the while, the pirates were drifting toward shore. If they were able to reach a Somali beach with their hostage, a rescue operation would be much more difficult. SEAL boats began zooming around the pirates, using “shouldering and blocking” tactics to keep them away from shore.
Daniel Klaidman on why the SEALs are having a moment.
By dusk on April 12—Easter Sunday—SEAL snipers on the fantail of the USS Bainbridge were in position to shoot the pirates. But with the covered lifeboat bobbing on the water, it was still difficult to get clean shots. They attached night-vision scopes to their rifles and waited. At one point, two of the pirates came into plain sight. The sharpshooters could see a third pirate through a window pointing his gun at Captain Phillips. Each sniper fired a single round, and it was over. Three shots, three dead pirates. A SEAL assault team boarded the lifeboat and took Phillips to safety.
Back in the White House, officials quietly celebrated. So much could have gone wrong. For a young president with little experience overseeing military operations, a botched job would have invited charges of fecklessness from Republicans and drawn inevitable comparisons to Jimmy Carter. The generals also expressed relief. “Mr. President, it worked out. But if it hadn’t, it would have been my ass,” one military adviser told Obama. “It would have been our ass,” the president responded.
Gen. Ziauddin Khawaja, an ex–security chief for Pakistan, accuses former president Pervez Musharraf of knowing where bin Laden was hiding and saying nothing.
Ever since the Navy SEALs found Osama bin Laden hiding in Abbottabad, Pakistan, less than a mile from the country’s national military academy, the question haunting American relations with Pakistan has been: who knew he was there? How did the most-wanted man in human history find a hideout in one of Pakistan’s most exclusive military cantonment cities and live there for five years without the Pakistani spy service finding him? Or did it know all along?
An ex-security chief in Pakistan has accused former president Pervez Musharraf of knowing bin Laden’s hideout and saying nothing (Lefteris Pitarakis / AP Photo)
Now there is an explosive new charge. The former head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI) says former president Pervez Musharraf knew bin Laden was in Abbottabad. Gen. Ziauddin Khawaja, also known as Ziauddin Butt, was head of the ISI from 1997 to 1999. A four-star general, he fought in the 1965 and 1971 wars with India. He was the first head of the Army’s Strategic Plans Division, which controls the country’s nuclear weapons. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made him director-general of the ISI in 1997 and promoted him to chief of Army staff on Oct. 12, 1999, when he fired Musharraf from the job. Musharraf refused to go and launched a coup that overthrew Sharif. Ziauddin spent the next two years in solitary confinement, was discharged from the Army, and had his property confiscated and his retirement benefits curtailed. So he has a motive to speak harshly about Musharraf.
Bearing that in mind, here is what the former spy chief claims. Ziauddin says that the safe house in Abbottabad was made to order for bin Laden by another Pakistani intelligence officer, Brig. Gen. Ijaz Shah, who was the ISI bureau head in Lahore when Musharraf staged his coup. Musharraf later made him head of the intelligence bureau, the ISI’s rival in Pakistan’s spy-versus-spy wars. Ziauddin says Ijaz Shah was responsible for setting up bin Laden in Abbottabad, ensuring his safety and keeping him hidden from the outside. And Ziauddin says Musharraf knew all about it.
Ijaz Shah is a colorful character. He has been closely linked to Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, a British-born Kashmiri terrorist who was imprisoned in India in 1994 for kidnapping three British citizens and an American. Saeed was freed when Pakistani terrorists hijacked an Indian airliner to Kandahar, Afghanistan, in December 2000, a plot masterminded by bin Laden and assisted by the ISI and the Afghan Taliban. Saeed was part of the plot two years later to kidnap Daniel Pearl and turned himself in to Brigadier Shah. Musharraf nominated Shah to be ambassador to Australia, but Canberra said no thanks. So he got the intelligence-bureau job.
Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto accused Shah of being behind the attempt to murder her when she returned from exile in late 2007. She was, of course, killed in another attempt later that year. Shah fled to Australia for a time while the situation cooled off.
Without a doubt, Ziauddin has an ax to grind. But he is also well tied in to the Pakistani intelligence world. When he was DG/ISI, he set up a special commando team to find and capture bin Laden with U.S. help. Elite commandos from the Special Services Group, Pakistan’s SEALs, were put on the hunt. Musharraf disbanded the group after he took power. Ziauddin’s successor at the ISI, Gen. Mahmud Ahmad, refused American requests to go after bin Laden right up to 9/11. Then Musharraf had to fire him because, even after 9/11, he did not want to do anything to bring bin Laden to justice.
We don’t know who was helping hide bin Laden, but we need to track them down. If Mush, as many call him in Pakistan, knew, he should be questioned by the authorities the next time he sets foot in America. The explosive story about him, which was first reported in the must-read Militant Leadership Monitor, is more than an academic issue. If we can find who hid bin Laden, we will probably know who is hiding his successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the rest of the al Qaeda gang.
In the middle of self-serving and greedy electioneering, there was such nobility to the U.S. Navy SEALs rescue of a 32-year-old former fourth-grade teacher from the clutches of brutal Somali pirates (one of whom was named Osman Alcohol). It was like hearing from afar the lost chords of “America the Beautiful.” SEAL Team 6 has become a more vivid symbol of the power of the great American idea than positive GDP statistics. Maybe the Chinese are more willing to bully their workforce out of bed in their spartan corporate dorms to crank out iPhone screens through the weary dawn, but can you ever imagine their leader giving an order for a fleet of military helicopters to set off in the dead of night to a heavily armed African hellhole and snatch back an endangered young do-gooder?
Obama the professor has become Obama the Caped Crusader when it comes to commanding America’s killing machine. The cool temperament that in everyday governing can be aggravatingly “aloof” has turned out to be stunningly well suited to national-security decisions—to those fabled 3 a.m. phone calls. The last time we went into Somalia, we had Black Hawk Down. This time it was a sleek stealth operation that left most of the enemy dead. As Dan Klaidman writes: “From the earliest days of his administration he began pushing his generals to pursue missions that were surgical and narrowly tailored to clearly defined objectives ... What he did not want to do was open up new fronts in the war on terror or get drawn into fighting local insurgencies around the world.”
With these thrillingly successful raids, it’s almost as if Obama has figured out a way to keep dramatizing an alternative presidency, one where he can make the kind of resounding executive decisions that elude him in politics. The paradox of his presidency is that the liberal appeaser has become the ruthless avenger. His metaphor rang clear in the State of the Union when he spoke of the SEALs’ Osama triumph: “All that mattered that day was the mission. No one thought about politics. No one thought about themselves ... The mission only succeeded because every member of that unit trusted each other—because you can’t charge up those stairs into darkness and danger unless you know that there’s someone behind you.”
Lance Iversen / San Francisco Chronicle-Corbis
Wouldn’t you love to know that someone as solid as Newt Gingrich was behind you when you charged up those stairs? That it was his shifty, pudgy little face under a helmet watching your back? Newt has so many “out of the box” ideas he’d probably call the SEALs back halfway up to canvass a better plan. The panic of the GOP that someone as volatile and unprincipled as Newt might actually get the nomination and take the whole Republican Party down has turned into a full-scale political drama.
The irony is that Mitt Romney would likely be a far more steady president of the right than its fake standard-bearer, Newt. If Romney wins the nomination, he’ll have had to fight his own side so hard he’ll be a captive of the Tea Party for the whole of his first term. “It is possible to imagine,” Peter Boyer writes, “that, if Romney somehow survives the primary battles and defeats Obama in November, the Massachusetts Moderate will govern more closely to the Reagan model than the conservatives now hoping to undo him would ever imagine.”
After Black Hawk Down in 1993, it seemed any land intervention in Somalia was out of the question, but the successful operation by the same unit that killed Osama bin Laden could be a sign of more raids to come.
A U.S. Navy SEALs unit, of the same special category that killed Osama bin Laden, has rescued an American and a Dane from pirates who captured them three months ago in Somalia. The Danish Refugee Council said the two were flown to Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, where doctors said they are in reasonably good health. The American remains in hospital for observation, but both plan to reunite soon with their families.
Navy Seals photographed during a drill at the John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi on October 25, 2010. (John Scorza / U.S. Navy via Getty Images)
In a pre-dawn raid on Wednesday the 25th (early evening Tuesday, U.S. East Coast time), members of the highly-elite SEAL Team Six parachuted into an area near the pirates’ inland nest far from the coastal region around the town of Galkayo—a disputed, outlaw stronghold that's earned the name "kidnap central." Jessica Buchanan, 32, a former fourth grade teacher from Virginia, and Poul Thisted, 60, of Denmark, both employees of the Danish Demining Group (DDG), were abducted there in October. Pirates holding the pair had demanded a ransom of $10 million.
A Djibouti-based U.S. anti-terrorist unit, Joint Special Operations Command Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) launched the raid from Galkayo’s airport, near where the aid workers had been abducted. CJTF-HOA includes forces from the U.S. Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine Corps.
According to Somalia Report, a Nairobi-based online news service, 11 to 12 aircraft arrived at that airport right about midnight Tuesday, local time. U.S. Special Operations forces secured the airport, with plans to launch the raid between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. local time. Residents near the site of the attack reported that around 3:30 a.m, U.S. helicopters began engaging the pirates in a gun battle.
U.S. commandos captured six pirates and killed nine others, among them a pirate called Osman Alcohol, though a leading pirate commander was not counted among the dead or captured. No U.S. casualties have been reported.
Circumstances leading to the raid and rescue remain in debate. Danish government officials told Somalia Report that the timing had to do with an illness Ms. Buchanan was suffering, which doctors said they had to treat. Other sources suggest the raid was planned when the pirates moved the hostages and presented an opportunity.
Local sources told Somalia Report that the pirates initially moved the hostages offshore to a ship, the MV Albedo—a Malaysian tanker another group of pirates had seized. The vessel was already holding the two female Spanish aid workers with Medicin Sans Frontiers who Al Shabab reportedly had admitted to kidnapping from Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp, in November, 2011, and sold on to pirates. In addition, the pirates held hostage the ship’s crew of 23.
In an excerpt from former SEAL member Don Mann’s new book, “Inside SEAL Team Six,” he describes what it takes to make it through training. Plus video of him at The Daily Beast discussing training, what Obama got wrong, and more.
The more sweat and tears you put into the training, the less blood you’ll shed in time of war.
—Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL motto
Have you ever heard of something called heart-rate variability (HRV)? It’s a real medical phenomenon discovered by a guy named Dr. Charles Morgan of Yale University that’s used to predict which soldiers are likely to perform most efficiently under the stress of combat.
Most people have a large degree of variability in their heart rates during the course of a day. In other words, your heart speeds up and slows down all the time, depending on conditions—like when someone is pointing a gun at your head or you’re lounging by the pool drinking a Dos Equis.
But many SEALs and other Special Forces types have what is called a metronomic heartbeat, meaning the heart thumps like a metronome, with the beats evenly spaced, not speeding up or slowing down.
And no, we’re not cyborgs.
Our hearts do this, it turns out, because our brains release a higher level of a neurotransmitter called neuropeptide Y (NPY) than most people’s brains do. NPY works as a natural tranquilizer that controls anxiety and buffers the effects of stress hormones like norepinephrine.
Dr. Morgan found that those with metronomic heartbeats perform better than others in survival school, underwater-navigation testing, and close-quarters battle because their systems are able to manage a very elevated degree of stress. Today, HRV is one of the factors used in the selection of SEALs.
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