More questions than answers
However, officials in Pakistan were soon claiming Zawahiri was not at that location.
It is ironic that intelligence operations, designed to gather critical information, can leave more questions than they answer, especially in the minds of those, like us average citizens, not involved with the operations.
We probably will not learn of the exact details of this operation. We will not know how exactly the US came to believe Zawahiri was there. We will not know what or who the CIA thought they were tracking, or how, in the days before the attack. It would be interesting to know how those Pakistani officials were sure Zawahiri wasn't there, so soon after the attack. Why didn't they know this ahead of the attack, and if they did, why wasn't it communicated to the US?
A report at CBS News today quotes Pakistani intelligence officials as saying Zawahiri was invited to dinner there, but declined to attend. The US still plans to do DNA tests, but the word from the Pakistani officials is not encouraging.
It is not a secret that elements in Pakistani intelligence are cozy with Al Qaeda and radical Islamic militants. One can only wonder here how much the CIA relied on intelligence from Pakistan, and if that intelligence came from these elements hostile to the US.
This attack does nothing good for the US. If reports are true that women and children were killed, the US is now shown, in a very public manner, to be working with Musharraf's government, and this attack can only discredit that relationship in the eyes of many Pakistanis.
Perhaps this was an operation designed to harm that relationship. That very assessment will be done inside intelligence circles, but again, we are unlikely to hear much about it.
The fellows at ThreatsWatch have another informative slide presentation, this one on high value Al Qaeda targets captured and killed in Pakistan. I'm glad they did this, because I was going to compile a similar list for this post, and they saved me a lot of work.
It's useful to look through those names and see if there are any similarities or differences with this attack. I'll list some of them here.
Hamza Rabia (Dec 1 2005) - killed in an air strike, certainly an indication of US-Pakistan cooperation
Musba al-Suri (Nov 3, 2005) - captured in a raid. Again, Pakistan intelligence would have to have been involved.
Haitham al-Yemeni (May 2005) - killed by a missile from A CIA drone, hard to imagine this would have been down without the knowledge of Pakistani intelligence
Farraj al-Libbi (May 2005) - captured by the Pakistani military
Amjad Farooqi (Sept 2004) - killed by Pakistani security forces. He was wanted in connection with assassination attempts on Musharraf.
Muhammed Noor Khan (July 2004) - arrested in Pakistan, and the US and Pakistan cooperated in using the resulting intelligence
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (March 2003) - one of the great successes against Al Qaeda, Mohammed, a top Al Qaeda planner was captured in Rawalpindi in a joint US-Pakistan operation
All this is to say Pakistan has cooperated with the US, and that cooperation has led to some significant arrests or kills. Certainly, Musharraf is motivated to go after some of these guys because of the attempts on his life.
In some of those listed above, you'll see successful missile strikes from CIA drones. Cooperation between Pakistan and the US has led to successful missile strikes before.
So what went wrong with this attempted attack on Zawahiri? Again, is this the result of hostile elements in Pakistani intelligence trying to disrupt the US-Pakistan relationship, to prevent more of their allies from showing up in the list above?
Was this just simply bad luck? Did Zawahiri, for reasons unknown, simply decide not to go that location that night?
We may never know, but the US and Pakistan have some damage control to do.
Tigerhawk points to some similar analysis from Stratfor.