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What is an appropropriate response?
Political and philosophical considerations after the attack on the Word Trade Center

Technology Fails to Find Osama
Mail & Guardian
Sep 14, 2001

The United States has spy satellites over the Indian Ocean capable of 
providing pictures from Afghanistan so detailed that they can identify 
cigarette butts. But, for all its technology, the US has for the past five
years been unable to find the man at the top of its wanted list, Osama bin 

Even before Tuesday's attacks, he had been indicted for more than 200 
killings. A $5-million reward had been posted by the FBI for information 
leading to his capture. But he has proved elusive.

The leader of the terrorist movement al-Qaida seldom sleeps in the same 
place two nights in a row, according to both his supporters and to 
intelligence sources. In a practice common among men on the run, his 
guards pick out two or three possible locations for each night, with the 
final decision left until the last minute.

In recent months he has been identified as being in Jalalabad in eastern 
Afghanistan, Kandahar in the centre and in the Hindu Kush mountains north 
of Kandahar. Public appearances are few but he was in Kandahar for a 
wedding in January.

He has training camps throughout Afghanistan for Arabs wanting either to 
fight with Afghanistan's ruling Taliban, the hardline Islamic group, or to
prepare for action against the US. Intelligence sources confirm that 
pictures of these camps are relayed to them on a daily basis, but he 
mainly avoids the camps, knowing they are too obvious a target.

Even if he was in a camp, the satellites would not pick him up as they 
cannot film inside buildings, tents and caves.

The limitations of satellites were shown after the attack on US embassies 
in East Africa when Bill Clinton ordered cruise missiles to be fired 
against a camp at the town of Kost in 1998. Bin Laden was not there.

The US thought it had him cornered when a call made by Bin Laden was 
intercepted by one of the Indian Ocean satellites but action was taken too
late. Although he has since reverted to use of handwritten messages, he has
not stopped using satellite phones: he gave an interview to a journalist in
Pakistan by phone this year.

An alternative to the cruise missiles used in 1998 would be a snatch squad
landing by helicopter but this runs up against the same problem of locating
him. And Bin Laden is heavily guarded, which raises the prospect of heavy 
US casualties.

Peter Bergen, a Washington-based journalist who met Bin Laden and is 
writing a book about the Saudi and his terrorist network, said: "The US 
has no problem with killing Bin Laden but it is incredibly hard to find 
him. It is a huge country, he could be anywhere.

"They need real-time intelligence but they don't have spies inside the 
organisation. They have people who have left the organisation and so their
effective knowledge of the organisation ends in 1998. It is old information.

"The reward is no good, because these people are not motivated by money. 
The only possible route is if the Taliban are sufficiently horrified by 
what happened to hand him over. But at the moment he has the Taliban on 
his side."

International influence on the Taliban is minimal, as demonstrated by its 
refusal in February to heed pleas not to destroy the Banyan statues. UN 
sanctions imposed to try to force the Taliban to hand him over hardened 
attitudes in Kabul.

Bin Laden, who inherited L200-million from his father's construction 
business, bankrolls the Taliban's military operations. At least 5,000 
Arabs have gone to Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban, most in the
Bin Laden-funded "055 brigade". Taliban ministers openly speak of Bin Laden
as their hero.