- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 14, 2002

The Pentagon is planning a new system of rewards in Afghanistan that would offer smaller bounties to learn the whereabouts of al Qaeda terrorists, after locals failed to respond to the multimillion-dollar bounties dangled by Washington.
A $5 million discretionary fund is being eyed to pay for basic inducements, such as cash, livestock or help drilling a well, say administration officials. The hope is that average Afghans, many of whom are poor and illiterate, can relate to owning a flock of sheep more than becoming a millionaire, the officials said.
"The big rewards are beyond the comprehension of the Afghan people," said a senior administration official. "The smaller rewards are for anything the Americans think the Afghans would like to have."
A military official said Gen. Tommy Franks, who is running the war in Afghanistan as head of U.S. Central Command, tells this story to illustrate how million-dollar awards do not register with Afghan peasants. The general asked an Afghan what he could do with $25 million if he helped the United States find Osama bin Laden. The local replied that the money might be enough to feed his nine children for a year.
Washington has offered large sums of money for years for information leading to the capture of bin Laden, who is accused of masterminding the September 11 attacks and other terrorist strikes. The Justice Department offered $7 million after the 1998 bombings of American embassies in Africa. After September 11, the United States increased the bounty to $25 million and expanded it to include al Qaeda lieutenants as well as bin Laden. U.S. intelligence officials believe bin Laden is alive and on the move in a large stretch of territory in eastern Afghanistan, or just across the border in Pakistan.
"Our hope is that the incentive … will incentivize a large number of people to begin crawling through those tunnels and caves, looking for the bad folks," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told a Pentagon press conference in mid-November. "There's no question there are people out looking."
Afghan commanders indeed have searched for the al Qaeda leader, as well as his aides. But an administration official said yesterday they seem more interested in presiding over their own tribes and territories than searching Afghanistan's thousands of limestone caves and irrigation tunnels.
John Hillen, an Army officer in the Gulf war who now runs a stock exchange, said the huge reward can work only if it influences someone close to the terrorist mastermind.
"Twenty-five million dollars may entice some who have come into somewhat random contact with bin Laden," Mr. Hillen said. "But the reward should be focused on fundamentally changing the basic loyalty calculus of those closest to bin Laden. It appears that this amount has not yet had an impact on them."
William J. Taylor Jr., a retired Army colonel and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, said that whoever provides information on top al Qaeda leaders is risking a death sentence.
"Whoever turns any information on bin Laden, they may get the money, but the word on who gave the information is going to be out and they're going to be dead people," Col. Taylor said. "They know that. … Are you going to take 25 million bucks if you're dead, your wife is dead, your children are dead? Sometimes supply and demand doesn't work."
When told that any such informant would enjoy confidentiality, Col. Taylor responds by saying, "We can't even keep our nuclear policy review secret." This was a reference to a leak to the press last week of the administration's classified nuclear posture review.
The FBI has published a list of its 22 most-wanted global terrorists, headed by bin Laden and his top adviser, Egyptian physician Ayman al Zawahiri. Of the 22, one, al Qaeda operations chief Muhammad Atef, was killed by a U.S. air strike in the war in Afghanistan.
An FBI official said he does not believe any of the $25 million fund authorized by Congress in November has been paid to any informants.
But previous terrorist reward funds have had some success.
The FBI arrested Ramzi Ahmed Yousef in Pakistan in 1995. He later was convicted of leading the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Washington reportedly handed out $2 million for information on Yousef.
Another $2 million reward led to the arrest of Mir Aimal Kasi, the Pakistani who gunned down two CIA employees at a traffic light near agency headquarters in Langley, Va. A student recognized Kasi's picture on a matchbook cover circulated like a wanted poster. Agents caught him in a hotel in Pakistan.
The terrorist fund is administered by the State Department's Rewards for Justice program. A White House document states that the department has paid out more than $8 million in reward money since 1995 and that "thousands of innocent lives around the world have been saved through the prevention of terrorist attacks."

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide