The researchers advocate that the U.S. investigate — but not bomb — the three buildings. They warn that if bin Laden indeed remains to this day in the tiny city of Parachinar, or even elsewhere in the relatively thinly populated tribal area of Kurram, he may move to the city of Peshawar (population 1.4 million) in the neighboring tribal area of North-West Frontier Province if Peshawar falls to the Taliban. News reports have warned of that possibility since last summer.
"If bin Laden were to move to Peshawar, which would become an option if the Taliban were in control there, the search would become much more complicated," Gillespie said. "It's the difference between looking for someone in L.A. versus in Big Bear," he added, referring to a mountain resort town 90 miles east of Los Angeles.
The findings are based on the last information on bin Laden's whereabouts to be made public by U.S. intelligence sources, which have closely guarded the details of any efforts to locate him. One and a half months after the coordinated attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon claimed the lives of more than 3,000 people, a walkie-talkie radio broadcast placed bin Laden in Tora Bora, a cave complex in eastern Afghanistan. In an unsuccessful attempt to capture bin Laden, U.S. forces attacked the caves the following month.
The UCLA findings rely on two principles used in geography to predict the distribution of wildlife, primarily for the purposes of designing approaches to conservation. The first, known as distance-decay theory, holds that as one travels farther away from a precise location with a specific composition of species — or, in this case, a specific composition of cultural and physical factors —the probability of finding spots with that same specific composition decreases exponentially. The second, island biogeographic theory, holds that large and close islands have larger immigration rates and will support more species than smaller, more isolated islands.
Inspired by distance-decay theory, the seven-member team started by drawing concentric circles around Tora Bora on a satellite map of the area at a distance of 10 kilometers — or 6.1 miles — apart.
"The farther bin Laden moves from his last reported location into the more secular parts of Pakistan or into India, the greater the probability that he will be in an area with a different cultural composition, thereby increasing the probability of his being captured or eliminated," Gillespie said.
Then, informed by island biogeographic theory, the researchers scoured the rings for "city islands" — or distinctly separate settlements of considerable size.
"Island biology theory predicts that he would find his way to the largest but least isolated city of that area," said Gillespie, an authority on measuring and modeling biodiversity on Earth from space. "If you get stuck on an island, you would want it to be Hawaii rather than one with a single palm tree. It's a matter of resources."
The approach netted 26 cities within a 12.4-mile radius of Tora Bora on imagery from Landsat Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+), a global archive of satellite photos managed by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey. With a 2.7-square-mile footprint, Parachinar turned out to be the largest and fourth-least isolated city, the team determined.
"Based on bin Laden's last known location in Tora Bora, we estimate that he must have traveled 1.9 miles over a 13,000-foot-high pass into Kurram and then headed for the largest city, which turns out to be Parachinar," said Agnew, who is the current president of the Association of American Geographers, the field's leading scholarly organization.
The researchers ruled out cities on the Afghanistan side of the border because the country was occupied at the time by U.S. and international forces and has been particularly unstable ever since.
"The Pakistan side of the border is much better for hiding because of its ambiguous political status within the country and the formal absence of U.S. or NATO troops," Agnew said.
Faced with the prospect of picking from more than 1,000 structures clearly portrayed in the satellite imagery of Parachinar, the team decided to come up with a short list of the criteria that bin Laden would need for housing, based on well-known information about him, including his height (between 6'4" and 6'6", depending on the source), his medical condition (apparently in need of regular dialysis and, therefore, electricity to run the machine) and several basic assumptions, such as a need for security, protection, privacy and overhead cover to shield him from being spotted by planes, helicopters and satellites.
So they looked for buildings that could house someone taller than 6'4" and were surrounded by walls more than 9 feet tall (both as judged by mid-afternoon shadows depicted on the satellite imagery), and that had more than three rooms, space separating them from nearby structures, electricity and a thick tree canopy.
Only three structures fit the criteria. The buildings also appeared to be the best fortified and among the largest in Parachinar. Two are clearly residences, the study states. The third may be a prison. But whatever the third structure is, it has "one of the best maintained gardens in all of Parachinar," the study says.
While the three structures meet all six of the criteria that the researchers believe would be required for lodging bin Laden, an additional 16 structures in Parachinar appear to meet five of the six criteria. If bin Laden is not in the first three structures, the U.S. military should investigate these other buildings, the study urges.
Airstrikes kill 31 ( near Parachinar )
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Feb. 16 (UPI) -- At least 31 people died Monday in a remote area of Pakistan in what seems to be a U.S. missile strike, a witness and a Pakistani government official said.
The attack by the pilotless aircraft occurred near Parachinar, a town near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in the semi-autonomous Kurram tribal region, The New York Times (NYSE:NYT) reported Monday. A government official said those killed were all thought to be Taliban militants.
US airstrike in Pakistan's Kurram tribal agency kills 30
The Kurram ( Parachinar ) strike is also the first reported attack inside the Kurram tribal agency. Prior attacks have focused on al Qaeda and Taliban compounds in the tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan as well as in Bajaur. One strike took place in Bannu, a region outside of the tribal areas.
Concept by Terintel recon team, Company F,
Is this the point of the airstrike that killed 30+
Great Paradigm Intel guys.