It is two years to the day since Osama bin Laden was killed by American Navy Seals in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad.
Because of the book No Easy Day by “Mark Owen” and Kevin Maurer we all know in details what happened during this epic operation.
Sure – No Easy Day is an amazing book. I read it in one go.
But there are three factual mistakes in it.
Two mistakes are minor. But the third is not. Consequently, it could have seriously jeopardized the operation to kill Bin Laden.
The first mistake appears on page 103. The authors write that Afghan province Kunar borders “the semi-autonomous Pakistani North-West Frontier Province”
North West Frontier Province (NWFP) is not “semi-autonomous” but one of the four regular provinces of Pakistan. The other three provinces are Punjab, Balochistan and Sindh.
The authors clearly mix up NWFP with Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (or FATA) which are indeed semi-autonomous as they are largely under direct rule from Pakistan’s federal government in Islamabad.
The second mistake is in the same sentence. The authors speak of “North-West Frontier Province”. But this province did not exist anymore when the raid on the Bin Laden-compound took place. In April 2010 the Pakistani government decided to change the name North West Frontier Province (NWFP) into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or KPK.
The third mistake is of a more serious nature.
On page 155 the authors of No Easy Day mention how a CIA interpreter would join the Navy Seals on the Bin Laden mission in Abbottabad. They write: “Ali was the CIA interpreter on external security. He spoke Pashtun, which was used in the local area.”
This is very much wrong. Because in Abbottabad they do NOT speak Pashtun but Hindko, a dialect of Punjabi.
Although Abbottabad is located close to the so called Pashtun-belt, the inhabitants of Abbottabad and neighboring towns are Hindkowans, an ethnic-linguistic group. Their area is called Hazara region. 94 percent of the inhabitants of Abbottabad speak Hindko, only 2 percent Pashtun.
So during the most important mission in a zillion years, the CIA with its 44 billion dollar annual budget and decades of experience in the Afghan/Pakistan-region sent a translator with the Navy Seals who could not understand the people he was supposed to communicate with.
The interpreter was very important to the mission. This because the CIA feared the Bin Laden operation could attract unwanted attention from local Pakistani police and civilians in the neighborhood. These people had to be kept at a distance by the interpreter.
No Easy Day describes the planning of the Bin Laden raid as follows on page 143:
“What is your plan if you’re confronted by local police or military?” they asked the team leader.
“Sir, we will de-escalate if at all possible,” he said. “First using the interpreter, and then using the dog, and then visible lasers. As a last resort we will use force.”
Eventually on May 2, 2011 the Navy Seals and the interpreter fly in. The operation is under way. Author “Mark Owen” describes on page 192 how he notices from inside the Bin Laden compound the interpreter.
“Outside, Ali, the CIA interpreter, and the security team were dealing with curious neighbors.”
For sure Pasthun interpreter Ali was dealing with curious Hindko speaking neighbors. But what interpreter Ali most probably said that historic night was: “Hey guys, I have no f***** clue what you are talking about.”