The death of Usama bin Laden (UBL) is welcome news indeed. It proves that no matter how long it takes, no matter how difficult the task or how cantankerous our domestic politics may be, when it comes to America's mortal enemies, the United States will eventually exact justice. In the case of UBL, it was more of a reckoning.
With Friends Like These...
The painstaking work conducted by the CIA, the U.S. military and other members of the Intelligence Community of piecing together bits of information to present a clear intelligence picture on UBL's whereabouts and then carry out the operation to end him deserves much credit. However, it was UBL's whereabouts in Pakistan that leaves America with some uncomfortable questions it must ask.
For starters, how long was UBL at this compound in Abbottabad, a town with a major Pakistani army presence roughly 40 miles north of Islamabad? How is it possible the Pakistani government, particularly its intelligence arm, the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, (ISI) did not know he was there? The Pakistanis have long played both sides when it comes to America and our war with the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
All reports are that the U.S. did not tell the ISI about this mission beforehand, which, if true, speaks volumes to what we really think of them on such sensitive matters. It’s possible the Pakistanis were aware of and supported the operation, but for domestic political reasons don’t want to be associated with the mission for fear of rousing the Islamic radicals in their own country. Only time will tell, but hopefully this operation will push Pakistan further towards supporting American interests in the region and away from its longstanding duplicity when it comes to the U.S. and the Taliban and its more recent overtures toward China.
Risk to the Homeland
Some may hope that our killing UBL will allow us to pack up and leave Afghanistan and disassemble our domestic homeland security efforts. Unfortunately, neither is likely, and a rush to either outcome would leave America more vulnerable not less. In the short run, the death of UBL will actually raise the terror risk against the U.S. homeland. Not so much from organized groups, but from a lone wolf inspired by the death of UBL to carry out a conventional revenge attack not unlike the Fort Hood shooting or the LAX El Al ticket counter shooting in 2002. Whether, in the short run, al-Qaeda can muster an organized catastrophic attack in retaliation for UBL's demise seems unlikely, for if they could, they would have done it already regardless of UBL's death.
In the long run, UBL's killing will not end the war between the U.S. and radical Islamists as al-Qaeda has long been in the franchise business making it much more difficult to defeat as a single entity. However, it will demonstrate our seriousness to our enemies potentially weakening their own resolve over time to continue the fight. However, UBL's demise may even further inspire elements of al-Qaeda, particularly al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to attempt another catastrophic attack against the homeland since our enemies have a much different sense of time and are willing to wait years, even decades, to carry out attacks. Since al-Qaeda is no longer a single group all of these results are possible.
Regardless of the fact that our killing UBL will not end the war in Afghanistan tomorrow or end terror threats against the U.S. going forward, bin Laden’s death should send a clear message to all involved: The U.S. is no paper tiger, but rather, is patient, capable and willing at times to do what needs to be done to defend itself and defeat its enemies.
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