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US News: The Hunt For Bin Laden

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US News: The Hunt For Bin Laden

Special Report
The Hunt For Bin Laden
By Linda Robinson, Mark Mazzetti, and Aamir Latif

"They are the enemies of the whole world. If you ask where their country is, they point to the far-off horizon."
British agent Herbert Edwardes, about inhabitants of Pakistan's tribal lands, 1847

The most wanted man in the world is living among Edwardes's storied enemies of the world, the hard men of wild beards and wicked daggers with a long history of hobbling armies of faraway empires. Osama bin Laden, senior military and intelligence officials say, has forsaken his Arab bodyguards and, when the need arises, travels with a small number of Pashtun tribesmen in Pakistan's untamed borderlands. Here the fertile floor of the subcontinent pushes relentlessly skyward toward the high wastes of Central Asia, but it is not a trackless land. If anything, there are far too many tracks--narrow goat paths and steep, rock-strewn ravines, through which a single man and a handful of bodyguards can pass virtually without notice. This, say several senior military officials assigned to find bin Laden and, if necessary, kill him, is where the al Qaeda leader and other members of his terrorist organization spend their days and nights. "Why would you be on the Afghan side of the border," asks a commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan who deals regularly with the Pakistani military, "if you had good sanctuary on the Pakistani side, and all you had to do was pay the tribal leaders?"


Pentagon planners refer to the relatively small military footprint as an "economy of force." But others note that Afghanistan's southern border with Pakistan remains largely unguarded, providing what some commanders fear may be a swift highway for Islamic radicals from the teeming madrasahs, or religious schools, in Quetta. "We talk about economy of force," one officer grumbled, "when we don't have enough guys to do what we need to do."

For all the progress, and despite the problems in Afghanistan, getting bin Laden may finally come down to what the Pakistanis do or don't do in their tribal areas. "That's the problem we had in Vietnam," says a senior commander. "It's the problem anytime you're trying to an insurgency. You can't allow them to have a sanctuary. And Pakistan provided that sanctuary."
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