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Jonathan Power: The Big Hunt for Bin Laden

Last week, Scotland Yard (alas, working without their chief sleuth, the late Sherlock Holmes) uncovered a major bomb plot. Those arrested were all Pakistanis. However, unlike the current U.S. policy, they chose to arrest the suspects, after months of carefully tracking their movements (notwithstanding Bob Quick, Britain’s senior counterterrorism expert, whose comical slip-up required the accelerating of planned raids and resulted in his resignation), not bomb them from 30,000 feet. Likewise, when four years ago bombers blew up trains entering Madrid's central station, the Spanish police laboriously ran them down, eventually cornering a number of the ringleaders in a safehouse. That time, the perpetrators were mainly Algerians and Moroccans. Those arrested, and later convicted and imprisoned, had no formal links with Al Qaeda. In fact, their ties were non existent, a government-appointed commission later found. Doubtless, however, it was the example of Al Qaeda that prompted their horrific attacks. The Spanish, on their manhunt, did not choose to bomb them, or even blast them out of their hideaways. (Seven suspects did, however, blow themselves up when they found themselves surrounded by Spanish authorities.) But the investigation took careful police work, backed by the latest in forensic and technological tools. Couldn't the Americans and NATO have done the same at the onset of their intervention in Afghanistan? Certainly, investigating domestic terrorism isn’t the same as stamping it out in a hostile and foreign land, but allied forces could have found informers and probably help from the rank and file of locals who wanted to have nothing to do with those who blew up New York's World Trade Center. Even many in the ranks of the Taliban may have been privately uneasy by the Al Qaeda attack. Moreover, Osama bin Laden was a distant, shadowy figure for most of them. Instead, we had a blanket armed invasion. The UN has reported that, in 2008, the number of civilian casualties rose by 40 percent. Surely there is a better way of finding bin Laden. Western forces are not there to reform Islam, to liberate women, or to install democracy. Afghan society must choose for itself whether or not it wants to pursue these lofty goals.

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