Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Osama bin Laden is Dead –The World will Change

Two days ago the United States killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and recovered his body during an exceptionally bold and dangerous raid into Pakistan. His death is significant for a number of reasons but perhaps the most important is that it re-establishes the United States as a country with the power to reach out and kill it's enemies -no matter where and no matter how long it takes.

It has also given the United States a renewed confidence in itself and in "American Exceptionalism". The spontaneous display of patriotic fervor following the President's announcement was not only heart-warming for us old time patriots, but it should also be seen as a clear warning to the detractors and enemies of this great country around the world who had begun to think we were a divided nation loosing it's strength.

Bin Laden had become the symbol of al Qaeda, even though the degree to which he commanded al Qaeda was questionable. The symbolic value of his death is obvious. The United States can claim a great victory and we have already seen widespread celebrations in the streets. On the other hand, Al Qaeda can proclaim his martyrdom.

It is difficult to understand what this means at this moment, but it permits the Obama administration to claim victory, at least partially, over al Qaeda. Regardless of the practical impact of bin Laden’s death, it also opens the door for the beginning of a withdrawal from Afghanistan. The mission in Afghanistan was to defeat al Qaeda, and with his death, a plausible claim can be made that the mission is complete. Again speculatively, it will be interesting to see how this affects U.S. strategy there.

Equally possible is that this will trigger action by al Qaeda in bin Laden’s name. We do not know how deeply compromised al Qaeda is. It is clear that bin Laden’s cover had been sufficiently penetrated to kill him. If bin Laden’s cover was penetrated, then the question becomes how much of the rest of the organization’s cover was penetrated. There is also the question of the large number of documents seized by US forces during the raid on bin Ladens "hide out". It is unlikely, however, that al Qaeda is so compromised that it cannot take further action.

At this early hour, the only thing possible is speculation on the consequences of bin Laden’s death, and that speculation is inherently flawed. Still, the importance of his death has its consequences. Certainly one consequence is a sense of triumph in the United States and the West. To some, this will be just a false claim by the United States. For others it will be a call to war. Whatever happens, we know this matters and it will have consequences, both good and bad.

In the meanwhile, I know you are interested in the story of how this operation went down, so here is the story as I have been able to piece it together.

After gathering and verifying good intel of bin Laden’s hiding place and getting a green light to conduct the operation from the very top, President Obama himself, a U.S. Navy Seal unit based in Afghanistan (reportedly Seal Team 6) was sent via helicopter to conduct a raid with orders to capture or kill the al Qaeda leader. American helicopters, waiting for the cover of darkness, approached a high-walled compound in Pakistan. In less than 40 minutes Osama bin Laden was dead, along with four others inside the complex, and the U.S. forces departed with the slain al Qaeda leader's body to fulfill a vow that originated shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

Speaking from the White House Sunday night, President Barack Obama announced the successful raid. Senior administration officials provided further details on the assault on the compound they believe was built five years ago for the specific purpose of hiding bin Laden.

The compound is in Abbottabad, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. The city sits in a mountainous region of Pakistan and is not heavily populated. Many of the residents are Pakistani army personnel. When first built, the compound was secluded and reachable by only a dirt road, the officials said. In recent years, more residences built up around it, but it remained by far the largest and most heavily secured property in the area.

The mission encountered outer walls up to 18 feet tall topped with barbed wire, with two security gates and a series of internal walls that sectioned off different portions of the compound. The main structure was a three-story building with few windows facing the outside of the compound, and a third-floor terrace had a seven-foot privacy wall.

Months of intelligence work determined that the compound was custom-built to hide a high-value terrorism suspect, almost certainly bin Laden. The officials noted there was no telephone or Internet service at the dwelling, which was valued at more than $1 million, and its occupants burned their trash, rather than leave it out for collection like other area residents.

The U.S. operation, a ‘surgical raid’, was conducted by a small team and designed to minimize collateral damage. Upon landing, the team encountered resistance from bin Laden and three other men that resulted in a firefight. In the end, all four of the combatants in the compound were dead, along with a woman whom one of the men used as a human shield. Sources said bin Laden was shot once in the chest and once in the head.

At some point, one of the assaulting helicopters crashed due to a mechanical failure (probably being overloaded and getting interference from the high walls of the compound. It was destroyed as the U.S. team flew away.

Obama and the senior administration officials said no U.S. forces were harmed in the operation.

U.S. officials said they used a number of methods to identify the body as bin Laden. It was clear to the assault force that the body matched bin Laden's description, but they used "facial recognition work, amongst other things, to confirm the identity."

Bin Laden's body has already been buried at sea after his body was reportedly handled in the Islamic tradition. Personally, I would have preferred to have seen his body tied to the back of a HUMVEE and dragged through the streets of New York -but that is a little extreme, even for me, so I am glad they disposed of the body this way.

According to the senior administration officials, intelligence work determined at the beginning of 2011 that bin Laden might be located at the compound in Pakistan. By mid-February, the intelligence was considered strong enough to begin considering action pledged by Obama when bin Laden's whereabouts had been determined.

To discuss that intelligence and develop a plan, Obama chaired five National Security Council meetings from mid-March until late April, with the last two on April 19 and April 28 -- last Thursday. The next day, on Friday, Obama gave the order for the mission. I am not a big fan of President Obama, as many of you know, but this was a 'gutsie' move on his part and he deserves credit for it. If the mission had failed, and it could have, he would have been crucified by the Republicans in the 2012 elections and the world would have seen the whole thing as an example of the decline in US military competence and  ability to project power.

The key break involved one of the few couriers trusted by bin Laden. Information gathered from those controversial interrogations conducted at Guantanamo Bay identified the courier. About two years ago, intelligence work identified where the courier and his brother lived and operated in Pakistan, and it took until August of last year to find the compound in Abbottabad raided Sunday.

"When we saw the compound where the brothers lived, we were shocked by what we saw -- an extraordinarily unique compound," one senior administration official said. "The compound sits on a large plot of land in an area that was relatively secluded when it was built. It is roughly eight times larger than the other homes in the area."

Noting that the courier and his brother had no discernible source of wealth to live at such a property, intelligence analysts concluded the compound was "custom-built to hide someone of extraordinary significance," the official said, adding: "Everything was consistent with what experts thought Osama bin Laden's compound would look like."

Another senior administration official told reporters that Obama's administration did not share intelligence gathered beforehand with any other country -- including Pakistan -- for security reasons (see, we are learning). The official said that only a small group of people inside the U.S government knew about this operation in advance.

Live Long and Prosper...

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