Monday, May 2, 2011

Osama Bin Laden's death: my two ha'porth worth. And was he celebrating Arsenal's victory over United on Sunday when they shot him?

No self-respecting, self-important blogger can let the assassination of Osama Bin Laden go by without spending even just a minute or two pontificating, but I’m sure if you are interested, you’ll will already know all the relevant stuff, so what is there that I might usefully add? And if you are not interested, you have, by this point already stopped reading and wandered off looking for your porn mag (or knitting patterns, depending upon your gender).

I have only skimmed the papers and listened to just over 30 minutes worth of analysis and prognosis on The World Tonight, so you probably know more than I do, and it should be you pontificating. But there is one detail which I haven’t heard alluded to and one suggestion which was made in passing which, if true, would also prove very interesting.

Bin Laden was living in a ‘mansion’ in a compound surrounded by ‘12ft high walls’, which didn’t have either a telephone line running in or an internet connection. (So how did he manage to keep in touch with his pals on Facebook, I wonder, but that must keep for another time.) One Pakistani speaker on the radio (I think it was a former deputy chief of the Pakistani air force) made the point that describing the house Bin Laden was killed in as a ‘mansion’ over-eggs the pudding rather and that the house was a far more modest affair, and judging by the one photo I have seen of the place, I think he has a point. If that house was a ‘mansion’ with all the comfort and convenience that ‘mansion’ implies, I shan’t be shooting off to Pakistan to buy a mansion at any time soon.

Furthermore, this ‘mansion’ was in Abbottabad, which has been described as the Pakistani West Point or Sandhurst and which was home to more Pakistani army types, both in active service and retired. It would seem pretty obvious, given the city’s importance, that either the Pakistani army or the secret service or both knew he was there. In fact, it is impossible to believe they didn’t. And that means there might be some substance to one of the intriguing claims made on the radio tonight, namely that the Pakistani government had actually got hold of Bin Laden at some point in the past and that he was being held by Pakistan as some kind of bargaining chip in any future dealings with the U.S.

Now obviously I have absolutely no way of knowing just how true that is or not, but the claim does have the virtue of explaining why the man was apparently holed up somewhere right under the noses of both the army and the secret service. If the claim is true, it would also be interesting to know what degree of freedom he had.

The second point is that, given the importance of Abbottabad as Pakistan’s ‘West Point/Sandhurst’ and given the degree of control the army and the secret service have in Pakistan, it strikes me as very odd indeed that the US Navy Seals met apparently met absolutely no resistance whatsoever. The report I read described them as arriving in three helicopters, ordering over loudspeakers everyone to go indoors and stay there and then attacking the compound. Would there have been no reaction whatsoever from Pakistani forces in the city? Would not Pakistan’s air force have detected the three helicopters as they made their way to Abbottabad from a base said to be 30 miles away? You would have thought so, but apparently there was no reaction at all. And that would imply that elements in the army – and, furthermore, elements who had the upper hand in the army – gave their tacit approval to the mission. Yet we are told that the U.S. didn’t inform Pakistan for fear of a leak. So the second explanation would seem to be more likely: that the army and the secret service were, on this occasion, pretty bloody useless. But that doesn’t ring true either.

As always, a clearer picture of what really went on will be revealed over the next few years. The Sunday Times, of course, will pretend to have the whole story by next Sunday and will print it, complete with the kind of lurid Boys’ Own graphics it has made its own. I know the Mail is going to town on the matter, and it, too, has penchant for that kind of illustration. But none of these immediate accounts are worth the paper they are printed on, and we really must wait a long time before we get to know the full story, if we ever do.

UPDATE: The news this morning was full of denials that the Pakistan government knew anything about Bin Laden being a local lad in Abbottabad and very popular in the corner shop (‘He always had a smile and was only too happy to spend a few minutes chatting. Lovely man. He was particularly fond Patak’s samsosas, mind they are good, and we sell quite a few, more than any other brand I should think.’) And I don’t doubt that Gilani and his cronies were kept well out of the loop, being regarded by the army, the secret service and most other people of consequence as worse than useless. But it still defies credulity (©John Humphrys) that the army knew nothing about the his presence locally, not just more or less next door to the army college, but next door to the secret service HQ. (Yes, I know Pakistan, like every other country, has more than one 'secret service', but let's not split hairs, please. It's so unseemly.) I mean surely to goodness they would all bump into each other when they were out getting their morning paper?

The reason given for the US Navy bods being able to fly 30 miles to attack the compound is that they ‘flew below the radar’. Well, I suppose it’s possible. In fact, given the insistence (they say) that no one in the Pakistan military knew, it is more probable than not. Yet, I still find it hard to credit. Would Uncle Sam really have been able to fly in 40 armed men 30 miles without being detected?

. . .

The picture at the top of this page was taken last week when there was glorious weather in Cornwall. It is on the back road leading down to Tresarrett from the A30. I like it a lot. It was taken on my mobile phone, but the quality isn’t half bad. It will remain there all summer, but I have decided to replace it in the autumn with a more autumnal piccy. The colour of the title has been changed to yellow because red didn’t show up very well. Incidentally, I should like to confirm that I cleared all these changes first with the White House, the Pentagon and Langley, and they gave me the go-ahead. It might seem an odd thing to do (to get permission) but, you know, as the raid on Bin Laden’s ‘mansion’ has shown, it does pay to be circumspect.

. . .

I realised that Bin Laden is – was, I suppose, would now be more correct – regarded as a mass murdering terrorist bastard but he wasn’t completely evil. Before he found Allah, he was living a playboy lifestyle here in London, courtesy of his father’s millions. And, would you believe it, he was an avid supporter of Arsenal FC. I know that sounds like the usual bullshit I come out with, but it happens to be true. So the question is: did he hear the score of last Sunday’s match between Arsenal and Manchester United? For a change, Arsenal beat United (1-0) and being an avid fan he would have been very chuffed. He might even have breathed his last with a smile on his face. Unlikely, but possible.


  1. An interesting read, completely spoiled by all the typos and errors. You write extremely well, so it is a pity you don't take greater care in checking your work.

    Radioe .... 'is over-eggs the pudding' ... 'any time soo' ... 'secret servie' etc. etc.

  2. As a rule, I post blogs, then go back and revise them for spelling, lack of clarity, badly expressed thought etc. I try to spot all the errors when I first write an entry, but I find that, as with any other kind of writing, waiting a few days allows one to see what has been written with a fresher eye. But thank you for your comment. (Is this you, Barry?)

  3. It turns out that the Americans were using stealth helicopters – a technology vastly improved by science since WW2 when the Germans used it on their U-boats for both noise reduction and low profile radar signatures on the conning towers. Like your recent blog concerning the demise of the Kennedy sept, it’s no surprise to sense that the main players are once again playing the Socratic Irony game…

    Kev adds: On occasion, I have known to read the Guardian, so perhaps my tolerance of typos is rather higher than that of your other recent anonymous commentator. There again, I have to consider whether ‘completely spoiled’ is less correct than ‘completely spoilt’. I note that the words ‘oilt’ and ‘soilt’ don’t exist. Perhaps ‘spoilt’ is a special case? Should I contact Michael Quinion at World Wide Words?