On to Bin Laden

Jun 9, 2006 5:17pm

The differences between the hunt for Bin Laden and Zarqawi involve geography, capability and ego. The most recent reports of Bin Laden put him in a part of Pakistan where hiding is easy. The frequent heavy cloud cover, as seen in today’s weather map, makes satellite surveillance difficult, and bin Laden’s captured aides say he knows it and takes advantage of it. "At nighttime and during cloud cover is the optimal time to be moving around on the ground," explains Tim Brown, a satellite imagery analyst. And unlike Iraq, there are steep mountains that can limit the line of sight of the CIA’s low flying unmanned predators. "They’re going to be able to see what’s directly below them and on the sides, but what’s around the bend or on the other side of a mountain crest is going to be obscured," says Brown.

As for capability, U.S. troops are not free to operate in Pakistan as they are in Iraq. And Pakistani troops have run into stiff resistance or been reluctant in their operations in the hostile tribal areas. "This is why Bin Laden has been able to go on for so long and stay in hiding. He knows that area," says former CIA officer Bob Baer. 

Finally there’s the question of ego. Zarqawi’s aggressive public posture, personally involving himself in every operation, allowed the U.S. to slowly but surely track his movements. "Zarqawi’s ego essentially led us to him. He put himself out there, he saw a lot of people, he liked to be in the media, and this is one of the quickest ways to get caught," Baer says. And Zarqawi’s operational security also had holes. This captured Zarqawi lieutenant gave Jordanian and U.S. officials a list of houses last month. Bin Laden has been much more careful, communicating only through a handful of bodyguards, and excluding even top aides from full knowledge of his movements and schedule.

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