Monday, May 02, 2011

Osama bin Laden

By now, the whole world knows that Osama bin Laden was killed by US Navy SEALs last night in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Information is still coming out and we'll probably never know many of the true details of the operation. Still, this is a time to congratulate the unnamed (and un-nameable) intelligence analysts who worked for ten years to piece together the details that led to finding bin Laden. We must also congratulate the unnamed (and un-nameable) Special Operations forces that planned and executed the attack. The dedication, professionalism, and tenacity of these individuals is what led to yesterday's successes. Raise a toast in their honor: they deserve it.

The disclosure of bin Laden's location raises a ton of questions about Pakistan, however. For years, Pakistani leaders, including Pervez Musharraf (former military strongman and President) and Asif Ali Zardari (current President) have said that bin Laden was not in Pakistan; and if he was, he was probably in Waziristan, the lawless area along the border with Afghanistan. Last night proved them wrong. Bin Laden was "hiding" in a huge house in a highly populated area only 40 miles from Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. His compound was within a short walking distance of the headquarters of a regiment of the Pakistani army. The house was a fortress: eight times the size of anything else in the area, surrounded by tall walls topped with barbed wire. Does this sound like he was particularly worried about the Pakistani government finding him? It's like finding Adolf Hitler "hiding" in a fortress in Frederick, Maryland.

No, I think this proves the Pakistani lie. Their intelligence agency, the ISI, helped establish the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The ISI has always been a bit of a rogue element, outside the control of the President and even, to a certain extent, the military. At the same time that we've been providing Pakistan with aid and assistance over the years, we've been leaning on them to rein in the ISI. They've been giving us lip service, saying one thing while doing the opposite. While telling the world that they were "searching" for bin Laden, they were instead practically treating him as a guest of honor. Now they have world-class egg on their faces, as well they should have. Their lie is exposed.

Apparently, not all Pakistanis are in league with the ISI. President Obama last night mentioned that it was Pakistani information that led to the discovery of the compound. The wording, however, indicates to me that it was individual Pakistanis who passed the information, not official government agencies who are supposed to be working with us.

So what do we do with Pakistan now? Cut all aid and support, tell them to go screw themselves? No. We need them and they need us. Most importantly, we need to maintain a good handle on what's going on in that country. To be blunt, I think the only reason we're still involved in Afghanistan is because Pakistan, right next door, is a nuclear power that's teetering on the brink of falling to the Islamists and Taliban/Al Qaeda supporters. If they did, that would be a disaster of world-wide proportions. Not only would international terrorists have a safe home base, but they'd have access to nuclear bombs and materials. A nuclear war with India would only be a matter of time.

As the saying goes, "keep your friends close and your enemies closer". Pakistan is a "frenemy", so we need to keep them in a headlock while trying to encourage the growth of a less-corrupt and more democratic government. A very difficult task.

I've been very interested in exactly how this operation went down. Information is pretty sparse, as it really should be. Apparently, two helicopters with the SEAL team left Afghanistan and flew to Abbottabad for the attack. One helo had a mechanical failure during the operation (possibly due to a sudden ingestion of many bullets from AK47's?) and was destroyed by the team. After the attack was over, the team left with bin Laden's body on the remaining helo and flew back to its base in Afghanistan. The body was apparently photographed, something was taken to provide DNA evidence, and then it was loaded into a US Navy plane and flown to the USS Carl Vinson in the North Arabian Sea. Then it was buried according to "Islamic tradition". The burial was probably filmed for propaganda and historical purposes, although nobody has said that yet.

So: how did the helos get from Afghanistan to Abbottabad? They're not stealthy. Did they disguise themselves as a routine supply flight until arriving at Abbottabad? Did they fly low, under the radar? That's a hard trick to do for any length of time, as it requires skimming the earth and flying through valleys. Very dangerous and risky. The Pakistanis weren't told of the attack until it was over, so the Pakistani air traffic controllers certainly weren't in on the game. And how about the fixed-wing flight from Afghanistan to the carrier? By then, everybody knew about the attack.

Going forward, it's going to be interesting to see what the Pakistanis do. They've been caught out before the whole world in a lie. Their people are already furious about the ongoing drone strikes. They can't cut us off because they can't afford to lose our aid and support. Their leaders will probably make a lot of noise about territorial integrity or some such nonsense, but I doubt they'll do anything really rash. So it will be interesting.

As for the remaining Al Qaeda and related terrorists, it's pretty clear that there will be some reprisal attacks. I would expect to see some suicide bombings very soon - almost certainly in Afghanistan, possibly Pakistan, and possibly a few other (unexpected) places. Suicide bombings are easy for them to arrange on short notice. We will probably see much more complicated attacks being planned for the longer term (several months). Al Qaeda used to have a very long-term view, in the decades, but now it's much shorter. They've been beaten back over the past few years. I think they have to quickly prove they're still relevant or else they'll lose their support, so they're probably thinking in terms of months now, rather than decades.

One target down. More must follow. The momentum seems to be on our side now, though.


Dianne said...

My greatest concern in terms of reprisals for Osama's death is something nuclear. Has Al Queda been putting together elements that will "come together" as the ace that may have been up their sleeve--that something being even a small nuclear device? God forbid. I truly hope that the "snake has been beheaded." However, as anyone knows who has killed a snake by cutting off its head, the body continues to move for a long time afterward.
I have a renewed respect for Obama and his selected staff as well as the incredible heroism and capabilities of the Navy Seals.

Storypainter said...

The NY Times has a great article today about how it all went down:

Joan said...

I kind of wondered about that "secret" air strike. :)

Did you watch the local news on Friday evening (6 May) and the straight-faced mention of the attack dog that possibly had titanium teeth that accompanied the SEALS? I almost fell out of my chair laughing.