Well friends, it appears after years of searching for Osama bin Laden, the hunt is over. Caput. Capiche. Ding dong the Wicked Witch is dead. Three cheers for freedom. The war is over.
Not so fast.
America may have pulled the trigger on the iconic OBL, but the “War on Terror” is not over. Tuck the #Winning hash tag and vat of tiger blood away for now, and let’s back track.
OBL, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks and head of Al Qaeda, was not, contrary to public opinion, hiding in a cave in the mountains along the Afghanistan and Pakistan border. Oh no. He was killed in a well-secured compound in Bilal Town, a residential area of Abbottabad, Pakistan (which, despite what Wolf Blitzer will tell you on CNN, is not a suburb in Islamabad, it’s 150 km north of the capital). According to Al Jazeeera‘s Rosalind Jordan in Washington, the operation had been in the making for the last 9 or 10 months. President Obama said in his remarks Sunday night:
Last August…I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden. It was far from certain, and it took many months to run this thread to ground…finally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action, and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice. Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability…After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.
The Globe and Mail interviewed Abbottabad resident Esham ul Haq, who said he heard explosions and gunfire around 12:45 a.m. local time (PST) and the noises continued until about 2 a.m., followed by silence. Pakistani news agencies had also reported that “three loud blasts” were heard late that night near the Pakistani Military Academy Kakul Road and a military helicopter crashed. According to GEO News, heavy firing was reportedly heard before the crash.
Since news of the death broke, Express 24/7 confirmed that a team of four U.S. helicopters were sent to the area for the 40-minute-long operation. The LA Times cited U.S. officials, who said American operatives killed Osama bin Laden, his adult son and three others, including a woman used as a human shield during the firefight. Reports have not yet confirmed the whereabouts of AQ’s #2 man, Ayman al-Zawahiri. A senior intelligence official told the outlet, “In the end it was the matchless skill and courage of these Americans that insured the success of this operation.”
Therein lies a significant detail – no mention of Pakistan’s role in the operation, despite the Wall Street Journal citing a senior Pakistani official, who claimed the crashed helicopter belonged to our Army. Express 24/7 later reported that Pakistan’s military was not part of the nighttime operation, but noted that later, “Pakistani forces joined in.” President Obama, meanwhile, noted in his speech Sunday,
Over the years, I’ve repeatedly made clear that we would take action within Pakistan if we knew where bin Laden was. That is what we’ve done. But it’s important to note that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding. Indeed, bin Laden had declared war against Pakistan as well, and ordered attacks against the Pakistani people.
Currently, the details surrounding the death and the operation are still unraveling, and while I’m hesitant to make concrete conclusions at this time, I do think the lack of reported cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan for this operation is telling. First, the LA Times reports that Pakistani officials were not told beforehand about the operation. While this could be for a number of reasons, one possibility is the increasing trust deficit in U.S.-Pakistan relations, particularly on the intelligence front. Another possibility is the fear that perceptions of U.S.-Pakistan joint operations could result in backlash for Islamabad, particularly given the anti-U.S. sentiment in the country.
The fact that our own officials have been vague for years on the hunt and capture of Osama bin Laden also raises a red flag, [see this past post on Qureshi’s interview with Wolf Blitzer two years ago]. OBL wasn’t in a cave or in Afghanistan (as Karzai breathes a giant sigh of relief). He was in Abbottabad – for at least nine months (or via @DaveedGR for years) – living in a high-walled compound owned by a courier and his brother, two known bin Laden confidantes noted the LA Times. It was, noted the news agency, a property valued at $1 million “with extraordinary security features…Its 12 and 18-foot walls were topped with barbed wire. Internal walls provided extra security. It had no internet and telephone connection. And its resident burned their trash rather than dumping it.”
It was also located near a Pakistani military academy, which begs the question, was bin Laden hiding in the area because he was an ISI asset? Or did the Pakistani military know he was there and was helping U.S. forces monitor his presence? Did Pakistan know that the U.S. knew that they knew? The questions are endless and speculation is infinite.
At the end of the day, Osama bin Laden’s death, while deeply symbolic, will not greatly impact Al Qaeda’s tentacled wide network, [see Five Rupees’ insight here]. U.S. military analyst Mark Kimmit told Al Jazeera, “We still have an Al Qaeda threat out there and that will be there for a number of years.” It will, however, add major boost to President Obama’s administration before his reelection campaign and invigorate millions around the world who have been impacted by the numbers of vicious AQ terror attacks throughout the years. All I can pray for is that more AQ attacks will not ensue in the wake of these developments.
P.S.: Obama’s remarks cut into Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice. Poetic.