Commentary

Stimson Experts React to Death of Osama bin Laden

in Program

Osama bin Laden was killed early Monday (Sunday afternoon in
Washington), in a raid by U.S. Navy
SEALs on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.  Lincoln Bloomfield, Jr.,
Ellen Laipson, and Michael Krepon comment on this historic event.
 

Lincoln
Bloomfield, Jr.,
Chairman of the Board

The United States’
successful military action to eliminate Osama Bin Ladin was a justified act of
retribution and self-defense.  On several
levels this action affected America’s
national interests.  Families victimized
by the 9/11 attacks gained some solace from the knowledge that their country
did not give up its pursuit of the chief perpetrator.  The nation’s military and intelligence
professionals accomplished the one deed without which the decade-long response
to Al Qaeda would forever have been incomplete. 
The outpouring of emotion among Americans when the news broke showed
that there is a powerful unity in this country that transcends politics.  Above all, the reputation of the United States
was reinforced as a superpower not to be aggressed upon with impunity.

Analysts will
assess the tactical impact of Bin Ladin’s removal on the Al Qaeda threat; very
likely the loosely linked extremist elements will lower their profile but seek
to demonstrate their continued relevance by attacking Western interests.  Beyond the specific capabilities and activities
by these groups, the greater impact of this event is psychological.

While the Obama
Administration correctly guards against reprisal attacks on the homeland and
interests abroad, it could also seize the moment and leverage the psychological
impact of this seminal event.  Muammar
Qadhafi in Libya
must be wondering today if his inner circle has been compromised; now is the
time to try and force his exit.  Bashar
al Asad in Syria faces diminishing options as his Alawi-led security forces
create a mounting death toll among the majority Sunnis; could the U.S. throw
him a lifeline where he jettisons his Iranian, Hizballah and Hamas allies and
negotiates a full peace with Israel?  Egypt and Iraq
have a reasonable chance to become participatory, rights-based democracies; to
defeat Al Qaeda, the U.S.
should intensify its efforts to ensure they achieve it.

 

Ellen
Laipson, President

The death of Bin
Laden is a major milestone in the war on terrorism, and its timing, while long
overdue in some respects, is helpful.  It allows the tenth anniversary of
the September 11 attacks to create some closure on the experience for the survivors
and for American society as a whole, and it converges well with President
Obama’s plans to scale back US
involvement in Afghanistan. 
It is a powerful symbol of “mission accomplished” for the fight against
Al-Qaeda, even if bringing lasting stability to Afghanistan still eludes us. 

The successful attack
will be hailed as a great military and intelligence achievement, and it
entailed highly skilled and courageous work to identify and develop
intelligence leads in a hostile environment, and to execute a military
operation, apparently without full support of the local government.  It
culminates more than a decade of work by the intelligence community on the
al-Qaeda threat, after several near misses and policy-intelligence disconnects
that prevented past attempts to conduct similar operations.

But the spirit of
celebration needs to be tempered with careful consideration of the actual cost
and the opportunity costs of the intense focus on this man and his
organization.  It is time now to revisit the investment made in the
counter-terrorism business, inside government and outside, and to calibrate
fresh what is a reasonable level of attention and resources to dedicate to this
threat, as compared to other transnational threats of the 21st
century security landscape. 

There are immediate
and legitimate fears of new terrorist acts in response to the death of
Al-Qaeda’s leader, and we have not yet felt the full brunt of emotion and
political backlash from the Muslim world, but one can hope that we can soon
move on to a more positive agenda in relations with the Muslim world, and work
to get US-Pakistani relations in a more productive mode. 

 

Michael Krepon, Co-Founder and Director of South Asia program

Abbottabad is a
quiet, lovely city.  The Stimson Center convened a Track II workshop
there for rising Pakistani strategic analysts. 
The city’s most prominent feature remains Kakul, the Pakistani military
academy where outstanding recruits begin their studies and service
careers.  On April 23rd, the
Pakistani Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Kayani, visited Kakul to
congratulate recent graduates.  According
to press accounts of the Army Chief’s remarks, Kayani claimed that Pakistani security forces “have broken the back of terrorists and
the nation will soon prevail over the menace.” 
Kayani also asserted that the
Pakistan Army “was completely aware of internal and external threats to
the country.”  Osama bin Laden’s
compound was a mile away from the parade ground where Kayani spoke.

Pakistani
authorities must be feeling acute embarrassment and resentment at this
juncture: embarrassment at Osama’s presence within Pakistan, despite numerous official
denials of this possibility, and resentment at a severe breach of Pakistani
sovereignty in a settled area.  Had U.S.
special forces and intelligence failed in this effort, the repercussions on
U.S.-Pakistan relations would have been horrific.  Having succeeded in bringing Osama bin Laden
to justice, the repercussions are extremely trying but not grounds for a
divorce.  Pakistan’s
civil authorities have put a positive gloss on Osama’s death, pointing to
longstanding and oft-repeated U.S.
statements that, if the location of al-Qaeda’s leadership were correctly
ascertained, military action would result.  That Pakistan’s security apparatus
appears to have been kept in the dark speaks volumes about the growing
difficulties of this partnership.

As a reflection of his
competence and Pakistan’s
extremely troubled internal and external security environment, General Kayani
received a three-year extension by the current Pakistani civilian government.  The Director-General of Inter-Services
Intelligence, Lt. General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, has received two one-year
extensions.  The presence of Osama bin
Laden near Kakul reflects very poorly on both of them.  The number two ranking al Qaeda figure, Ayman
al-Zawahiri, and the worst offenders of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, are
widely believed to be on Pakistani territory.

Hard times lie
ahead for U.S.-Pakistan relations.  Our
interests in Afghanistan
diverge as well as converge.  Groups that
engage in violent acts against U.S.
and allied forces in Afghanistan
and against targets in India
are based, trained and equipped on Pakistani soil, without serious interference
by Pakistan’s
security apparatus.  It is far more
convenient and popular for Pakistani politicians to rail against U.S. drone
strikes than against extensive Muslim-on-Muslim violence within their
country.

Osama bin Laden’s
violent demise comes at a time when U.S.
expenditures in Afghanistan
are reaching the half-trillion dollar mark. 
It is far from clear that the tactical achievements of U.S. forces
there can result in long-lasting gains.  It is even more apparent that Pakistan loses by
being a safe haven for violent extremists. 
Osama’s death provides an opportunity for Pakistani and U.S.
authorities to reconsider the sources of their deeply troubled relationship.      

Share on twitter
Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Choose Your Subscription Topics
* indicates required
I'm interested in...
38 North: News and Analysis on North Korea
South Asian Voices