Saturday, April 27, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Operation Geronimo – the Betrayal and Execution of Osama Bin Laden and its Aftermath


Published in Daily Times (Pakistan) / 27 April 2013
Author: Shaukat Qadir
Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal



Book Cover Courtesy: Link

The insider account by a former SEAL later used to prop up the raid sequence of ‘Zero Dark Thirty fills in the dramatic details but a change in vantage point zooms in on the Pakistani equation. In less than a 100 pages, the author proceeds to tie up loose ends leftover from the reams of official spin surrounding the events of May 1 2011.

He is a retired infantry Brigadier from Pakistan Army who uses his unprecedented access to the corridors of military power to launch an independent inquiry into the incident. His research takes in isolated facts, hidden motives and shadowy agendas to create an alternate timeline of events. They correspond with the main outlines of the sanctioned version but differ in the approach. The resultant document builds an appealing profile that demands a second look at the so called ‘mansion’ in Abbottabad and the dead man walking within its walls.

He sets off to meet the same players but their roles shift ever so slightly. An unarmed Khalid still gets shot by a SEAL but now he is taken unaware from the top of the stairs. When it comes to the details of the raid, it is a modified reconstruction and the fairly straightforward plot veers off course as the timing of the crashed ‘helo’ comes into question. The writer, who visited the infamous compound, plays detective and draws his own conclusions from the lack of bloody footsteps, (among other clues) going up the stairs where Khalid exists the story. The helo now drops the raiding party on the roof – the crashing bit comes later. He presents corroborating evidence to support these findings but it is a strange thing to cover-up - crashing at the beginning of a mission sounds much worse than at the end – coming from the roof makes more sense than entering from below.

As bin Laden’s status is downgraded from asset to liability, one recalls the scene from the movie ‘Zero Dark Thirty’, where someone remarks how no one met OBL in 4 years, he is out of the game, he might as well be dead and that she – the OBL obsessed CIA agent ‘may as well be chasing a ghost’. This observation leads to the tough agent having a mini meltdown. The primary premise of this book also builds upon the increasing irrelevance of America’s Most Wanted, as far as his inner circle was concerned. This revelation makes the betrayal story easier to absorb.

This is a multi-layered narrative adding a curious new dimension to the saga – one where a retired OBL was sold out by his comrades and the elusive figure of a wife overshadows the famed courier. It is an interesting twist that places bin Laden’s wife Khairee, who till 2011 had been in Iranian custody, at the centre of the conspiracy. Mr. Qadir examines her role and the strange connection with the dodgy doctor (Afridi) with his fake polio campaign making a startling conclusion about the bounty hunters. (Spoiler Alert: it may be Al Qaeda)

Concerns were raised about finding the ten year trail of breadcrumbs end in the heart of a military garrison. The Navy SEAL raid that dispatched OBL cast a long shadow on Pak-US relationship. He provides plausible explanations to justify the choice of location and makes use of an email where the PAK Army has to be cut down to size to tie the embarrassing raid and Salala attack together as part of a well thought out strategy.

Mark Owen’s unauthorized account in ‘No Easy Day’ and Kathryn Bigelow’s lop-sided movie refer to the hurriedly seized hardware but according to the book, bin Laden’s PC was left for Pakistanis to collect and analyze. The ISI is nowhere to be seen in that version except for the brief cameo as stonewalling agency- their contribution is lost in the complicit / incompetent dialogue. The book takes comfort from Obama’s initial mention of Pakistani cooperation; ISI’s routine request made to CIA for the compound surveillance is left open for debate. Though he has been a part of detailed briefings by the Counter Terrorism (CT) wing of the ISI and by senior military officials, field operatives and the ISI, he admits spooks will be spook adding that there are ‘too many cover-ups from too many directions to get all the facts’ Consequently, the ISI is called out for its reticence and non cooperation and the CIA - for its duplicity. This attitude lends credence and helps sell the story since he is not out to glorify the service at the cost of the truth.

‘Operation Geronimo’ has the look and feel of an informal presentation with several asides in the form of footnotes where the writer expands upon the conclusions made or leaves little remarks pointing out a tempting trail left unexplored. There are private conversations about OBL’s retirement that leave readers wondering at his reach; he does explain how he comes by the ‘intel’. His forthright manner earns him brownie points even if the simple style of delivery causes the narrative to lose some of the luster. The replay arrays the residents of Abbottabad in proper spy thriller gear and lets our imagination fly. The journey opens the door to a host of new possibilities.

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