In 2004, about six weeks after the capture of Saddam Hussein, Kurdish police nabbed a high-ranking al-Qaida operative named Hassan Ghul in a town near the Iranian border. It wasn't long before Ghul was telling CIA interrogators about one of the organization's couriers, who used the nom-de-guerre of Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti.
"Hassan Ghul was the linchpin" in finding and killing Osama bin Laden, a U.S. official told The Associated Press on Monday. Ghul told the United States that the Kuwaiti-born Pakistani now known to have been Sheikh Abu Ahmed, who was killed along with the terrorist chieftain he served on Monday by U.S. Navy SEALs, was a crucial figure within al-Qaida.
"Al-Kuwaiti" was close to Faraj al-Libi, who replaced the captured Khalid Shiekh Mohammed as al-Qaida operational commander, Ghul told the CIA.
When al-Libi himself was captured in May 2005, and the United States interrogated him, he reportedly covered up for Ahmed so protectively that it became clear Ahmed was a key asset. It took more than seven years, but following the trail that began in Iraq with Ghul's capture finally led to bin Laden's Pakistan compound.
Ghul may have been next-to-unknown to Americans, but not to Newsmax readers. As early as March 8, 2004, Newsmax featured a newswire story
noting that Ghul was found with "a strategic memo from Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, the mysterious terror leader allegedly behind the bombings of Shiites in Iraq." And that "Ghul also yielded intel on bin Laden's position."
Three days after Ghul's capture in Iraq, President George W. Bush touted it as "further progress in making America more secure." Bush noted that Ghul "reported directly to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed" and "was moving money and messages around South Asia and the Middle East to other al-Qaida leaders. He was a part of this network of haters that we're dismantling."
Little did Bush realize just how much progress the Ghul capture would mean.
Beyond all this, another issue emerges: Would Ghul even have been in Iraq in January 2004, when he was captured, had it not been for the U.S. presence there? Bush said Ghul was in Iraq "helping al-Qaida to put pressure on our troops."
If Ghul really was the "linchpin" in successfully tracking down Osama bin Laden, then critics of the U.S. invasion of Iraq soon may be asked new questions — even the question of whether Osama bin Laden would still be alive today had it not been for Bush's much-criticized war.
Any such fundamental re-evaluation of the Iraq war would be weighed against the expansion in al-Qaida recruitment that took place within Muslim countries the world over in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion.
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