President Barack Obama is boasting of the death of the FBI’s Most Wanted, Al Qaeda’s leader code-named “Geronimo”. However, the official story about this gunshot victim, who could not have been the real Bin Laden, is collapsing like a house of cards. Those cards tumbling in the wind tell us a lot about the bad hand being dealt by the White House to the mass media.
Abbottabad, a hill station of villas owned by Pakistani military officers, is an unlikely place to find Osama Bin Laden. I passed by there on my way back from the Karakoram Highway, which snakes along the raging Indus River, with the only foreign journalist team in Pakistan just before the attacks on September 11, 2001.
N35 is the only highway that cuts through the town, which was founded in the 1850s by British Army Major James Abbott. No outlaw, especially one as notorious as Bin Laden, is going to overnight in a place with only one road in and out, much less set up camp inside enemy territory. He had no reason to travel the Karakoram Highway, with its many police checkpoints and military bases along the China frontier. Geographic logic indicates that, if he had remained in Pakistan, Osama would have based himself in one of the towns linked by road to pro-Taliban Pashtun tribal areas such as Dir or Waziristan.
Since the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Obama never stayed inside large buildings, knowing them to be an easy target for warplanes and helicopter gunships. He’s always preferred the low-key camouflage of shepherd tents, peasant huts and, most of all, caverns, like the many tunnels his supporters dug out in the Afghan mountains.
The facts and confusion in the aftermath of the CIA’s lightning raid suggest a scenario that can be summed up as follows. On Obama’s presidential orders, the B-Team or Team Blue (CIA and India’s spies in RAW) knocked over – unwittingly- a deep-cover operation that ran a clone of Al Qaeda under the A-Team (U.S. Army special forces and Pakistani spooks from ISI). To remove the evidence in this case of mistaken identity, the Navy SEALS dumped the impostor’s body into the Arabian Sea. Obama claims victory in the war on terror, just in time for the 10th anniversary of 9-11.
Thanks to the bungled CIA operation, the web of lies is coming apart. In Rawalpindi and Peshawar, stories have been circulating about a mysterious organization that set off car bombs against Sufi mosques, assassinated politicians including Benazir Bhutto and provided military aid to the Pakistani Taliban – and that routinely claims itself to be Al Qaeda. These brutal attacks are meant to discredit the Taliban’s resistance struggle against the American-led intervention in Afghanistan and unauthorized military intrusions into Pakistan.
In a field as treacherous as the AfPak region, false-flag operations have to be compartmentalized to prevent penetration by Taliban sympathizers, foreign agents or the rare ethical Congressman. The right hand cannot be tipped off to what the left hand is doing, and that means the CIA’s Blue Team had no inkling of the existence of an undercover A-Team.
Much like the movie and old TV series, the A-Team is a motley crew of defectors recruited out of military prisons in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib along with Pakistani veterans of the dirty war against Karachi’s Indian-born radicals in the MQM. Training and leadership comes from American commandoes and defense contractors, misfits with an instinctive disdain for military regulations and local law.
These are cutthroat terrorists who work for our side, while often pretending to be the enemy. In military war games, they’re the bandits on the Red Team who relish spoiling the heroics of the patriotic good-guy Blues. Always outnumbered and outgunned, the A-Team specializes in deception and dirty tricks, or in military jargon “asymmetric warfare”.
Army intelligence officers are fixated on penetrating the C2, or command and control structure, of their adversaries. In the specific case of the global jihadists, that means the upper echelons of Al Qaeda. The one sure way to get to the field commanders of “foreign fighters” in Afghanistan is to send bogus messages from their emir, Osama Bin Laden.
The actual Bin Laden, according to my Taliban sources, departed from Afghanistan with 25 aides and family members in autumn 2001, during the U.S. bombing of his caves in Tora Bora. His party was flown to Sharjah, UAE, from where he proceeded by dhow, or wooden ship, to North Africa. There, he established the Al Qaeda in the Magreb (AQIM), which sparked the current rebellion in Libya.
At the time, Bin Laden was on kidney dialysis, which forced him to stoop as he walked. His condition was serious enough to warrant rumors of his death by the end of 2001. Many online news sites have noted the inconsistencies in subsequent audio messages claiming to be from Bin Laden. Within a few years, even those messages were halted, perhaps by a botched cosmetic surgery procedure. After a long pause, Bin Laden was apparently resurrected in his third incarnation, the suspect known as Geronimo.
Geronimo is the bearded man watching the videos of the original Bin Laden’s speeches, probably for his rehearsal routine. Along with a couple of other poseurs with the A-Team, his last action was to walk down the stairs to greet the unexpected visitors who had arrived aboard a U.S. Navy helicopter. Instead of a handshake from friendly Pentagon advisers, Geronimo and tribesmen were gunned down in cold blood by Navy SEALs and agents from the CIA clandestine operations directorate.
In stunned reaction, guards with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency opened fire outside, downing a hovering Stealth helicopter. Within several minutes of the weapons exchange, both sides realized what had happened – friendly fire against a top-secret infiltration operation. The cover-up immediately begins with the Navy SEALS dumping Geronimo’s bullet-riddled corpse into the Arabian Sea. Then, a string of falsehoods and staged photos are concocted by the CIA, easy enough since it is essentially a group of deceivers and liars by profession.
It’s not difficult to figure out the mistake. In the search for Bin Laden and Mullah Omar, CIA-hired architects studied every large compound in Pakistan, using Google Earth maps. The walled villa with watchtower in Abbottabad was among the top candidate sites. India’s spies with the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) track a “courier” from Pakistani Taliban to the site – without knowing his actual mission as an ISI infiltrator reporting back to his spymasters. Eavesdropping by drones overhead and from undercover agents pick up Bin Laden’s voice inside, without detecting that the voice is taken from video recordings or Geronimo’s dress rehearsals.
Knowing that President Obama needs to wrap up the 9/11 affair before the upcoming 10th anniversary, CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, gives the green light for the raid. Thus, the “Mr. T” of A-Team is promptly blown away – in a major setback for anti-terrorism operations on the AfPak front.
The death of “Bin Laden” is necessary to close the 9/11 chapter so that Washington can revive its geopolitical alliance with Islamist movements financed by Qatar, Kuwait and other fundamentalist Gulf regimes. Before September 11, the U.S. was allied with Al Qaeda in Kosovo and Chechnya, and before then in Soviet-ruled Afghanistan. Today, that unholy league of Muslim fanatics and “crusaders” is reassembling in the fundamentalist-organized rebellions against secular governments in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Syria.
Disposing of Osama, even a false one, also helps Islamist allies erase their tracks inside America. Three Qatari spies, with legal passports bearing aliases, mapped out the World Trade Center and other targets months ahead of the attacks, while Muhammad Atta and the rest of the alleged hijackers all belonged to the Egypt-based Muslim Brotherhood. Qatar, which owns Al Jazeeera, is the leading Arab state in the ongoing battle against the Qadhafi government in Libya, and a generous funder of American initiatives in the Mideast.
The historical Geronimo, chief of the Apache rebellion, died of pneumonia in a federal prison as a tragic hero. His unknown namesake in Pakistan, in contrast, was betrayed and murdered in a farce.
Yoichi Shimatsu is a Hong Kong-based journalist and Editor-at-large at The 4th Media.