Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the "War on Terror" is that, almost a decade after September 11, the most powerful nation in the world still hasn't captured or killed the men behind the attack, Osama bin Laden and his No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Colorado native Gary Brooks Faulkner is trying to change all that. Faulkner, like bin Laden, is on a kidney dialysis regimen. But that didn't stop him from traveling deep into Pakistan earlier this year, armed with a samurai sword and a pistol, to try to do what the US military and CIA haven't been able to: kill bin Laden. Pakistani security officials arrested him in the remote district of Chitral and returned him to the US. Faulkner says that God ordered him to kill the terrorist leader—but whether it was religious inspiration or his own know-how, some experts suspect he may have been close. The New York Times' Dexter Filkins explains:
Whatever else we might conclude about Gary Faulkner, our arrested American bounty hunter, we should give him this: He was looking in the right place.
Or at least the place where many intelligence analysts think he is: the mountainous high-altitude district of Chitral. For me, the mere mention of the place evokes the image of the Saudi terrorist.
Last December, early on a Sunday morning, I sat at a long table in the basement of the Pentagon talking with an American military officer about the situation in Afghanistan. As the meeting ended, another man approached, wearing plain clothes and a plainer face.
"Chitral," he said, half-smiling. "If you’re looking for Osama, you might try Chitral."
He muttered something else, then walked away. The man didn’t identify himself, but he didn’t have to. He was almost certainly an intelligence analyst. If I had to guess, I’d say, given our location, that he worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Why Chitral? Well, for one thing, it’s remote. Chitral is a mountainous district of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, in the far end of the country, abutting an Afghan region called Wakhan, notable because it’s shaped like a panhandle. In other words, it’s a long way from the Federal Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA, where many other intelligence analysts believe Mr. bin Laden is probably hiding.
There is one other reason. As he walked away, my plain-faced Pentagon acquaintance said one other thing: "We have a hard time putting Predators up there." Apparently, the drones cannot stay up long, because their bases are so far away. In a funny kind of way, he was asking for help.
Faulkner recently told the Denver Post that he hopes for another shot at bin Laden. (He claims to have already made eight trips.) Next time, he'll try to use a balloon or a glider to access Chitral, he told the newspaper—a move that he presumably hopes will allow him to elude Pakistani authorities. Good luck with that, dude. Don't get yourself killed.
If you want to know more about Faulkner and his quest, there's a profile of him in the latest GQ. The article isn't online yet.