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Robinson: Bin Laden aide likely would fight to the death

CNN national security analyst Ken Robinson

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Watch CNN for ongoing reports, updates and analysis of the operation on the Pakistani-Afghan border.
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CNN terrorism expert Peter Bergen says the capture of Ayman al-Zawahiri would be a significant development. (March 18)
  • Nationality: Egyptian

  • Position: Osama bin Laden's closest adviser

  • Status: Wanted, $25 million reward

  • Background: Medical doctor; founder of Egyptian Islamic Jihad; referred to as the "brains of al Qaeda"
  • (CNN) -- Pakistani forces have surrounded a man they believe is Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda's No. 2 leader, Pakistani government sources said. More than 200 al Qaeda fighters are trying to prevent his capture, the sources said.

    CNN national security analyst Ken Robinson, who is in Pakistan, talks Thursday with CNN anchor Kyra Phillips about the possible implications of such a high-profile capture.

    ROBINSON: What's interesting is speaking with senior Pakistani army officials. They were describing the tactics being used, which included very aggressive enforcement of homes that they had barricaded. They called them fortresses in this village.

    They said that the enemy that they were up against was using very sophisticated mortar techniques, using mortaring shells against their forces and using target reference points that had been preregistered.

    In other words, they had anticipated that at one point they would have to defend this location, and they had very significant defenses outlayed for them. That's why the casualties were so high.

    PHILLIPS: If indeed this is Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is in this area that is now surrounded? What are the rules of engagement? Is it to get in there and bring him out alive and take him into custody? Or is that necessarily not the objective?

    ROBINSON: Well, one of the things that the generals, the Pakistani generals that we spoke to yesterday and today, stressed was that one of the things in this engagement that causes things to slow down was their concern for collateral damage on innocent civilians.

    And they again addressed the village, and they got the women and children, as many as would come out, to come out before they continued their attack.

    But they've been applying very stressful combat power on there. They did not specifically say whether it was a dead or alive situation. They simply said that it was their intent to kill or capture all the enemy foreign fighters who were in their borders.

    PHILLIPS: Well, what [do] you know about al Qaeda's No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri? Is this somebody that would come out alive or die -- as he would be believed to be -- a martyr?

    ROBINSON: I cannot believe that we would see al-Zawahari or Osama bin Laden captured alive. I believe they both would probably fight to the death. Ayman al-Zawahiri was the leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, a very lethal terrorist organization in Egypt, before he linked up with bin Laden. And he's the guy who really took bin Laden over the edge in terms of getting more lethal in his own thought processes.

    PHILLIPS: And these are all Pakistani troops that have this area surrounded. Are there any U.S. troops involved, Special Operations, Special Forces?

    ROBINSON: There is a mixture of forces right now. There are Pakistani military special operations tactics forces, a quick-reaction force that was designed to respond to actionable intelligence. And then there are tribal militias also involved in the tribal areas. [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf met with several of the tribal leaders in that area three days ago to secure their support and to secure his ability to move his army in there.

    As well there's the Frontier Corps who is there and the regular army conducting these coordinated search operations. No one in the government of Pakistan has mentioned the presence of U.S. forces.

    PHILLIPS: If indeed this is al-Zawahiri and he is captured, do troops on the Pakistani side and also on the U.S. side believe that he would have information for sure leading to Osama bin Laden, whether he is dead or alive?

    ROBINSON: Every one of these captures in Pakistan, if you think back to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed or [Ramzi] Binalshibh, each one of them has been found with computer disks, with Rolodexes, with pocket litter, all of which has led to more intelligence, which has led to more arrests. And I suspect that in this case we'll find the same thing because it's clear that they weren't expecting the surprise visit they got the other day when this offensive operation started.

    So it's likely that they will be able to get more actionable intelligence. The question is where is Osama bin Laden. There are many who opine here that they're not going to find him in a cave, they're going to find him somewhere in Pakistan.

    PHILLIPS: [What's Pakistan's] long-term strategy with al Qaeda? You met with a number of key leaders, both political and military, while you spent time in the country there. What do you know about the president's strategy?

    ROBINSON: Well, President Musharraf has a strategy that he calls "enlightened moderation." One of those things is to change realities on the ground. It's [in] his interest to take moderate Muslims and try to convince all Muslims to reject extremism and to work on economic development, social development.

    His two-pronged approach is to moderate behavior within the Muslim community and also to reach out to the West to have a resolve for political responses, not just the military hammer.

    But also to think about ways to help the Muslim leadership to be able to nurture justice and to help the Muslim world with economic development, to take these disenfranchised people that they have in the population -- the hungry, the poor -- and raise their standard of living to the point that they're no longer hopeless because hopelessness is one of the oxygens for terrorism.

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