DISPATCHES
The Old Man of the Mountain
by Rob Schultheis
Jul 08, 2010 | 1055 views | 0 0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Back in the 12th century, a Shi’a Moslem named Hasan-i-Sabbah, from what is now Iran, founded a fanatical sect known as the Hashashin; the name derived from the fact that the group’s hard core believers were brainwashed with the aid of hashish into thinking that if they died while carrying out their leader’s commands they would automatically enter Paradise.

The Hashashin movement sprang up at a time when Shi’as were being persecuted by the majority of Moslems who followed the Sunni creed. Hasan-i-Sabbah’s group, eventually known as the Assassins, retaliated by sending their highly trained suicidally brave recruits to murder Sunni rulers, military commanders and administrators the length and breadth of the Moslem world. Trained at remote inaccessible castle strongholds like Alamut and Qa’in and sent out in the guise of innocent pilgrims, merchants and travelers, they had an almost supernatural ability to infiltrate the innermost circles of royal courts and military officer corps. More than one Sunni monarch was assassinated by his most trusted personal bodyguards, or awoke in his heavily guarded tent to find a knife under his pillow, along with a note saying that if he didn’t ally himself with the Hashasheen the next knife would end up in his heart.

Is history repeating itself today, with bin Laden and al-Qaeda playing the part of Hasan-i-Sabbah and the Assassins? There are certainly clues pointing in that direction. Four years ago, in Iraq, an elite team of a half dozen U.S. Army Special Operations troops was wiped out by assassins who disguised themselves as American soldiers and infiltrated the base where the team was stationed, using Army-style vehicles and employing supposedly secure passwords. Two months ago, nine American and Canadian Army colonels traveling in a heavily guarded convoy through Kabul were killed by a suicide car bomber who somehow knew about the valuable human cargo on board and the convoy’s route and schedule.

In another dramatic case, one of al-Qaeda's key operatives, being held under heavy guard in amaximum security prison in the heart of Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, mysteriously escaped along with a group of other important inmates; no one has ever figured out how. Most recently, a Jordanian intelligence officer secretly working for al-Qaeda infiltrated the CIA team hunting Taliban and al-Qaedaleaders on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border; when the Agency's commanding officer called all the mission personnel together to meet with the Jordanian, he detonated a suicide bomber vest he was wearing and wiped out the entire team.

All of which brings us back to the same question: who is training and deploying these assassins? Where is Osama bin Laden and his council of experts, advisors, and the platoon of body guards who reportedly surround him constantly? Where is his Alamut, his Qa’in?

Well, I’m no rocket scientist, but I’m pretty sure I know. You can fit the chain of reasoning on a half dozen paper napkins: The only way he could have disappeared so quickly and completely after Tora Bora was courtesy of the Pakistani Army’s ISI. The tribespeople along the Pak-Af border were already cynically making money off their erstwhile Al-Qaeda allies before the U.S. all but annihilated them. Factor in a $25 million reward, and someone would have betrayed him long ago. Besides, his whereabouts are way too big a secret not to have spread all across the Tribal Area and beyond long ago.

He’s got to be on the Afghan side of the Af-Pak border; if by some chance his whereabouts became known and he was on Pakistani soil, the jig would be up for Pakistan: Not only no more billions of dollars in aid, but they would probably be dead meat courtesy of us, the Israelis, India or all three; no way they would be allowed to remain a nuclear power, that’s for sure.

Besides, it’s clear from Osama’s own writings that staying on in Afghanistan is more important to his psyche than life itself. His deluded mind thinks that the Afghans look up to him and love him, and running out on them would be a kind of spiritual hara-kiri.

He’s got to be in a place inside Afghanistan but not of it: 100 percent geographically isolated from the rest of the country, so there’s no chance of Afghans stumbling on him accidentally. Also, some place where the Pakistani Army can come to his aid quickly if need be.

Via Google Earth, I discovered there was only one part of Afghanistan that fit those criteria. I proceeded to pay for commercial satellite coverage of the area, which clinched my guesswork. The whole region of jumbled mountains, ravines, wadis and such is dotted with modern buildings and other man-made constructions completely foreign to Afghanistan; you could examine the rest of the country with a magnifying glass and find nothing even vaguely resembling what’s there. Cottage-like houses surrounded by hedges and protective earthen berms. Excavations that look exactly like ammo dumps and bomb shelters. Checkposts and guard stations along all the roads. The foundations of an unfinished octagonal mosque, far too big for a supposedly “virtually uninhabited” desert area. Parade grounds. A system of outposts and fortifications extending far into Pakistan, as if someone foresaw the possibility of a military threat from that direction some day.

Industrial-looking complexes resembling motor pools, machine shops, armories, whatever. Many an isolated mountaintop has at its summit what looks like a concrete bunker, small garrison or communications/observation post.

Here and there you see the walled compounds typical of extended-family housing in rural Pushtun areas of eastern Afghanistan, but almost all are abandoned and deserted, as if someone came in, told the locals to clear out, and then began building the James Bond-like installations that are there today.

The only access is by an elaborately engineered all-weather road over the mountains from the Pakistani Tribal Area town of Wana. There is evidence of heavy truck traffic going back and forth from Pakistan, but nothing continuing on into the rest of Afghanistan…

I could go on, but that’s enough. Is anyone out there curious and public-spirited enough to pursue this further? It would be nice…
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