On Sunday the world collectively sighed when news broke the most wanted terrorist and brainchild of 9/11 was finally killed. Osama bin Laden was hiding in plain sight-in a Pakistan town with major military bases, academies and neighbors.
After nearly 10 years of searching for bin Laden, U.S. intelligence agencies finally put the puzzle pieces together and it doesn’t reflect well on Pakistan.
According to the Obama Administration, higher-up boots on the ground in Afghanistan determined last summer that Pakistanis may not be helping U.S. and NATO forces, but instead assisting the Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists by providing safe havens and tipping them off to planned missions led by the Coalition forces.
However, to make that statement plausible, means someone in the military or intelligence didn’t do their homework, because in 2003/04, a plan was hatched by Army Lt. COL Anthony Shaffer entitled “Operation Dark Heart.” He reported that Pakistan officials were not friends of the U.S., and they were playing both sides of the war efforts.
In the midst of Intel gathering, COL Shaffer, who was running the Defense Intelligence Agency in Afghanistan, discovered credible intelligence that Pakistan was home to the “al Qaeda Hotel.” Multiple intelligence officers pin-pointed the town of Wana, located in Pakistan about 20 miles from Afghanistan, as a base where the Afghan insurgency would hold-up and re-group.
COL Shaffer and others determined the “al Qaeda Hotel” was much more than a resting point, “it was a full-blown military headquarters for insurgents.” The problem was the facility was located in Pakistan and the U.S. respected their sovereignty too much to cross the border without permission. And permission would have meant the insurgents would be tipped off to the U.S. raid.
Armed with this new information, COL Shaffer decided to draw up a mission- that became known as “Operation Dark Heart.” “I was hopeful that my superiors would give me a thumbs up to implement Dark Heart, especially since there was strong likelihood the site housed a high value target (HVT).” COL Shaffer said that HVT was al Qaeda’s number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian-born doctor who adheres to the radical Islam theology and most likely contender for the al Qaeda top job.
During a preliminary presentation, COL Shaffer was given the green light to develop Operation Dark Heart. Shaffer says it only took about two weeks to draw up detailed plans. And only a few days gain approval from U.S. commanders in Afghanistan. “It was good news,” he thought.
While COL Shaffer was planning the offensive he remembered his hero, George Patton’s statement; “In war, the only sure defense is offense and the efficiency of offense depends on the warlike souls of those conducting it.” With that in mind COL Shaffer put together a plan to break the back of the insurgency.
Operation Dark Heart seemed to be on the road to becoming a reality, in fact, COL Shaffer learned the Coalition General, supported the operation was confident that COL Shaffer’s approach would lead to success. However, the General would leave Afghanistan before Shaffer’s plan was operational.
The new General in charge of the Afghan War didn’t share the enthusiasm for Dark Heart and informed COL Shaffer it was over and the U.S. would not cross the Pakistani border without permission. Operation Dark Heart was being shelved.
During the planning stages of Dark Heart Shaffer feared the CIA would inadvertently leak the details regarding the operation to the ISI. “Once the Pakistanis knew, the Taliban would find out,” COL Shaffer stated.
He speculated that his intelligence regarding Wana, home of the al Qaeda Hotel had eventually been shared with the Pakistanis, who then “let al-Zawahiri escape…probably deliberately during the Battle of Wana,” Shaffer told Playboy magazine.
Specifics regarding Operation Dark Heart, which could have led Americans to the capture of Al Qaeda’s number two leader, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, were eventually panned by Coalition Lieutenant General David Barno.
While Shaffer’s Dark Heart plan to penetrate the so-called “al Qaeda hotel” in Wana, Pakistan was shot down, his Intel proved to be on target. Ultimately the Pakistani Army engaged Taliban forces in Wana and surrounded one of bin Laden’s deputies.
However, Dark Heart weighed heavily on COL Shaffer and the U.S.’s inability to fight the war effectively led the Colonel to write a book detailing his Afghanistan War experiences. The book aptly titled “Operation Dark Heart” chronicled gritty details regarding Pakistan’s and U.S. complicity with insurgents and the contents eventually led to the Pentagon stepping forward, objecting to the recount of the war and trying to quash the tell-all book.
That book, which was originally approved by Department of Defense, would become a battle royal last summer. In the end the DoD would purchase all 10,000 first editions from the publishers, St. Martin Press, forcing them to re-release a heavily-redacted book. The orgional contents of the book even caused a bidding frenzy on eBay, many wanted to know what the Pentagon was trying to cover-up.
Flash forward to the bin Laden raid in Abottabad, Pakistan. As details of bin Laden’s demise emerged one couldn’t help but compare many of the principles behind Dark Heart to the raid on the Osama compound over the weekend.
When COL Shaffer was asked about the similarities he replied with humbleness. “It took awhile and I don’t know how much of my Operation Dark Heart plan they used, but I’m honored to have played a small role in bin Laden’s demise.”
Shaffer says, “It never came out in the book, because they made me lose it, but if Operation Dark Heart hadn’t been stopped, we might have broken the back of Al Qaeda…my guess is that the DIA forced the cuts [from my book] to minimize this incredibly bad call on a mission that might have led to the capture of Al Qaeda’s number two.”
If the military followed through with Shaffer’s plan to break the back of al Qaeda one wonders how many lives could have been save?
Pakistan’s role in the War on Terror
It appears that sometime in the past few years the major players in the military and intelligence fields finally came to the conclusion that Pakistan could not be trusted.
In a report released by the London School of Economics last year, the authors provided specific details that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) were closely aligned with Afghan insurgents. Perhaps even more troubling is a report from the United Nations that illustrates that the ISI is currently working with jihad groups inside Afghanistan trying to undermine the U.S./NATO operations.
In recent months many high-ranking U.S. officials have accused Pakistan of collaborating with terrorists in the region. Admiral Mike Mullen, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman said earlier this year that, “It’s fairly well known that ISI has a long standing relationship with the Haqqani network (a faction of the Taliban). And Haqqani is supporting, funding, training fighters that are killing Americans and killing coalition partners…that’s the core (issue) that I think is the most difficult part of the (Pakistan) relationship.”
As war dragged on it became increasingly clear that Pakistan was not forthright about their ties to terrorist networks. In an interview with NBC’s Brian Williams, Leon Panetta, Director of the CIA, acknowledged that Pakistan was kept in the dark about the bin Laden operation.
“The Pakistanis did not know…And that was deliberate on our part that this would be conducted as a unilateral mission. President Obama had made it very clear to the Pakistanis that if we had good evidence as to where Osama bin Laden was located we were going to go in and get him,” Panetta said.
Perhaps even more concerning about the complicity Pakistanis have with insurgents inside their country is the fact bin Laden’s hide-out compound is home to many of Pakistan’s premier military bases and retired military residences- it’s hard to believe they didn’t noticed something strange about the million-dollar hide out bin Laden lived in for the past five years.
The bottom line is that after meticulous preparation by U.S.military Special Forces – America got bin Laden. And the message being spread around the world today is the elite U.S. military and intelligence officers will not stop hunting terrorists and there is no place to hide.
In the end, COL Shaffer agrees with Panetta on a few points. American intelligence and the Obama Administration learned from the failed and disastrous Iran hostage rescue as well as the Somali Black Hawk Down missions.
“(Those events) were clearly part of the debate,” Panetta said. “This was a risky mission…and the President obviously felt that we had that obligation to act.”
The gamble certainly paid off, but if America wants to keep the momentum going, COL Shaffer says it’s much like electoral politics in America it’s, “Ohio, Ohio, Ohio.” And in the Middle East it is “Pakistan, Pakistan, Pakistan.”
Up next: Navy SEALs get the job done.
© Copyright 2011 Kimberly Dvorak All Rights Reserved.