Friday, February 20, 2009

Geographers Goof Up on Bin Laden Whereabouts

Juan Cole today ( reports on the controversy over a recent paper by Gillespie et al, some geographers, in the MIT International Review, which has also gotten a lot of media attention. By doing analysis from space they claim that Osama bin Laden is probably hiding in the largest city in frontier zone of Pakistan near the Afghan border, Parachinar, and even identify three building complexes in it as likely locations for him to be. The obvious implication is for the US military to bomb the heck out of those buildings, or maybe at least to drop some Special Forces or whomever into there to try and capture him.

Cole reprints a letter from a former resident of the area to the MIT International Review, Murtaza Haidar, a professor at Ryerson University. Haidar points out a reason why Gillespie and crew are almost certainly wrong, and why it would be a major mistake for anybody to attack the place. While this zone is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim, as is bin Laden and his closest followers, the city of Parachinar is inhabited overwhelmingly by Shi'i Muslims, with the city under siege and attack by their neighbors. Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the area have been responsible for the deaths of many Shi'a, so that there is simply no way that anyone from either group would be remotely welcome in Parachinar, most especially bin Laden himself. But , this is not the first time we have seen American "experts" calling for military action on the basis of ideas from outer space that are not at all in touch with the facts on the ground.


Shag from Brookline said...

Is this the geographers' version of "Where's Waldo?"

Bruce Webb said...

From the very beginning of the war in Afghanistan the military has asserted that they somehow have perfect intelligence about what is happening thousands of feet below. That is when acting on some tip they bomb a wedding party with clear video and photo evidence that that is exactly what it was they deny everything based on intelligence which they refuse to discuss.

Nope somehow they magically know that some hut being bombed at night does not have women and children in it. And this even in cases where it is unlikely in the extreme that we have people on the ground in a position to know. Somehow a culture has been allowed to grow up where American military spokesmen simply refuse to admit the possibility of error, even when they bomb Canadians or shoot up a famous NFL player turned Army Ranger.

I know when Tillman was killed that alarm bells went off in my head. The event simply could not have occured in the way it was initially described, Tillman did not have the rank to be leading a 'section' even in the Rangers use that term differently than regular Infantry. But the Army reflexively lied and in a way that had to go pretty far up the chain of command, Silver Stars are not awarded at the local level. Meaning some senior officers signed off on what they had to know was a fraudulent citation. That was kind of the moment knew we were screwed, clearly the Generals had drank Rumsfeld's kool-aid.

We are going to lose Afghanistan like we lost Vietnam, too much reliance on bombing the crap out of places where we really don't know (and don't seem to care) what is going on on the ground.

Fungus the Photo! said...

Given that Osama was an asset of the Mil/Ind complex, they still use him, even after his likely death to kidney disease.....Only sensible to do so, as invisible terrorists are so difficult to spot, that nearly all actions in his pursuit can be justified?
He was 6ft 6in ie 1 metre 97cm tall. Quite hard to hide! But personalities are so diverting!

Fungus the Photo! said...

The Tillman killing, claimed as blue on blue, also rings false: he would be listened to if he spoke about what was happening on the ground. It is all one big exercise, with live fire, until enough spare labour and time have past into oblivion.
Those who play weekend soldier may end up as a sacrifice on an economic bonfire? With DU sauce!