As reality settles, news and analyses over the historic event Sunday night begin to shift from euphoria to intellectual objectivity. It is without question that President Obama has scored a major victory in the road to 2012 and, in particular, as a new election cycle is getting underway. The Republicans, who have long claimed to champion the cause for America’s security, can only send praises to the president. At a party Monday at the White House with Senate and House representatives, Obama sounded upbeat. “I hope we all can seize this historic moment to put aside our differences in order to focus on the major challenges that our nation faces,” he said.
However, it is too soon to know if the killing of bin Laden is truly the game changer for Obama and his administration. Without a doubt, momentum is clearly on his side, but security—although constant in the voters’ minds—has long been an issue in the back burner. Jobs, gasoline prices will be the determinant factors in 2012.
Republicans: chagrined for not being the ones announcing bin Laden’s death
In 2002, former president George Bush claimed that the terrorist network was crumbling because its leader, Osama, was living in a cave in the Tora Bora Mountains along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Now the world knows Bush’s assertion was utterly premature. The mastermind was living lavishly in an upscale suburb. Here’s how the world’s most-hunted man was vanquished, as recounted by some of the government officials:
“Bin Laden was living in a relatively comfortable place: a compound valued at about $1 million,” a senior U.S. official told POLITICO. “Many of his foot soldiers are located in some of the remotest regions of Pakistan and live in austere conditions. You’ve got to wonder if they’re rethinking their respect for their dead leader. He obviously wasn’t living as one of them.”
Officials described the raid as the culmination of years of highly advanced intelligence work that included the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), which specializes in imagery and maps, and the National Security Agency (NSA), the “codemakers and codebreakers” who can covertly watch and listen to conversations around the world.
Back in mid 2009, on June 2, 2009, to be precise and just over four months into his presidency, Obama had signed a memo to CIA Director Leon Panetta stating “in order to ensure that we have expanded every effort, I direct you to provide me within 30 days a detailed operation plan for locating and bringing to justice” bin Laden.
In the biggest break in a global pursuit of bin Laden that stretched back to the Clinton administration, the U.S. discovered the compound by following one of the terrorist’s personal couriers, identified by terrorist detainees as one of the few al Qaeda couriers who bin Laden trusted.
“They indicated he might be living with and protecting bin Laden,” a senior administration official told reporters on a midnight conference call. “Detainees gave us his nom de guerre, or his nickname, and identified him as both a protégé of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of September 11th, and a trusted assistant of Abu Faraj al-Libbi, the former number three of al Qaeda who was captured in 2005.”
Officials didn’t learn the courier’s name until 2007. Then it took two years to find him and track him back to this compound, which was discovered in August 2010.
Dubious attitudes in Pakistan
While the euphoria over this tectonic victory against bin Laden drags on, and on Thursday, President Obama will have a bash on Ground Zero, serious questions remain on the role of Pakistan, at least on the role of some highly strategic elements within the military establishment there. It is hard to imagine how bin Laden could live there for so long in such highly visible compound without being detected. A brigade of the Pakistani army’s Second Division makes its headquarters there. It is also important to mention that in past years, Islamic fundamentalist guerrillas who sought to infiltrate the Indian-held portion of Kashmir and conduct terrorist attacks are reportedly based there.
One Pakistani-born columnist compared the city to Colorado Springs, Colorado, where the US Air Force Academy is located, featuring the same noxious combination of military brass and religious fundamentalists.
Since early Monday, Pakistani officials have been on a public relation mission to salvage what seems utterly unsalvageable. There are conflicting accounts of the role of the Pakistani security forces in the actual raid. Pakistani officials claimed Monday that their forces had actually assisted in the attack, but this was dismissed by Obama administration officials, who claimed that Islamabad was only told of the raid after bin Laden was dead.
It seems clear that a critical issue in the timing of the raid was the complex and murky relationship between the US intelligence apparatus and its Pakistani counterpart. One important question involves the possible connection between the raid’s planning and the activities of Raymond Davis, the American CIA agent arrested by Pakistani police in January after killing two men as they drove past his car in Lahore, the biggest city in Punjab province. The Davis affair touched off two months of increasing and public acrimony between the US and Pakistan.
After intense diplomatic pressure by the Obama administration, Davis was released from Pakistani custody on March 16 and quickly flown out of the country—two days after Obama convened the first of five meetings at the White House to plan the raid on Abbottabad.
Top US officials involved in the raid’s planning and execution held meetings with their Pakistani colleagues in the weeks immediately preceding the attack, and after operational planning meetings had begun at the White House. CIA Director Leon Panetta, who was said to have been in overall charge of the operation, met with Ahmad Shuja Pasha, head of the Pakistani ISI, on April 11.
Two weeks later, General David Petraeus, the US commander in the Afpak theater, visited Pakistan and met with General Ashraf Kayani, the current military chief. Two days after that meeting, White House officials made it known that Panetta would replace Robert Gates as secretary of defense, while General Petraeus would succeed Panetta as CIA chief.
General Kayani was in Abbottabad only a week before bin Laden’s capture, giving the commencement speech to a new graduating class at the Pakistan Military Academy. He told the graduates that his forces had “broken the back” of Islamic fundamentalist militants. “Let me assure you that we in Pakistan’s army are fully aware of the internal and external threat to our country,” Kayani said, speaking only a few hundred yards from the home of the Al Qaeda leader.
In all, the killing of bin Laden is by no means the end of the war on terror. So, the days ahead will be critical in understanding the true meaning of what took place last Sunday. In the meantime, Obama will certainly benefit a temporary boost in the polls.