“Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you're a thousand miles from the corn field." — Dwight D. Eisenhower
News of an incredible operation to take out Osama bin Laden broke late last night and shortly after President Obama delivered a message that every American has been waiting to hear: Osama bin Laden is dead. He wasn't found in the mountains or in a cave — he was in suburban Pakistan living in a $1 million compound with 12-18 ft. walls and very few windows. Bin Laden reportedly resisted and was killed during a firefight. The only bizarre thing was that the administration made sure to uphold Muslim burial traditions. Why would any non-radical Muslim want this dirt bag to get a proper Muslim burial?
On Sunday, May 1, 2011 helicopters descended out of darkness on the most important counterterrorism mission in U.S. history. It was an operation so secret, only a select few U.S. officials knew what was about to happen.
Intelligence officials discovered the compound in August while monitoring an al-Qaida courier. The CIA had been hunting that courier for years, ever since detainees told interrogators that the courier was so trusted by bin Laden that he might very well be living with the al-Qaida leader.
Nestled in an affluent neighborhood, the compound was surrounded by walls as high as 18 feet, topped with barbed wire. Two security gates guarded the only way in. A third-floor terrace was shielded by a seven-foot privacy wall. No phone lines or Internet cables ran to the property. The residents burned their garbage rather than put it out for collection. Intelligence officials believed the million-dollar compound was built five years ago to protect a major terrorist figure. The question was, who?
In September 2010, the CIA presented Obama with a set of assessments that indicated Bin Laden could be hiding in a compound in northwest Pakistan. Starting in mid-March, the president convened at least nine National Security Council meetings to discuss the intelligence suggesting Bin Laden may be hiding out virtually in plain sight.
The CIA developed their theory through leads from individuals in Bin Laden's inner circle and other captured fighters following Sept. 11. Intelligence officials were repeatedly told about one courier working for Bin Laden, as someone that America's Most Wanted Man deeply trusted.
The Gitmo detainees provided U.S. officials the courier's nickname, and identified him as protégé of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and a trusted assistant of Abu Faraj al Libbi, once Al Qaeda's third highest ranking official. (He was captured in 2005). It has been reported by anonymous sources that some of this information was derived from enhanced integration tactics such as waterboarding, especially with KSM.
By mid-February, intelligence from multiple sources was clear enough that Obama wanted to “pursue an aggressive course of action,” a senior administration official said. Over the next two and a half months, Obama led five meetings of the National Security Council focused solely on whether bin Laden was in that compound and, if so, how to get him, the official said.
Normally, the U.S. shares its counterterrorism intelligence widely with trusted allies in Britain, Canada, Australia and elsewhere. And the U.S. normally does not carry out ground operations inside Pakistan without collaboration with Pakistani intelligence. But this mission was too important and too secretive.
On April 29, Obama approved an operation to kill bin Laden. It was a mission that required surgical accuracy, even more precision than could be delivered by the government’s sophisticated Predator drones. To execute it, Obama tapped a small contingent of the Navy’s elite SEAL Team Six and put them under the command of CIA Director Leon Panetta, whose analysts monitored the compound from afar.
The president finally gave the order for the operation to pursue Bin Laden on the morning of April 29 – just before he departed for Alabama to visit areas ravaged by last week's tornadoes that tore through the southern U.S., a senior administration official said.
Early on the morning of May 2 in Pakistan, the strike began.
By 1 p.m. in Washington, top advisers had gathered at the White House. Around 2 p.m., Obama huddled with them to review final preparations for the operation. He returned to Situation Room at 3:32 p.m. for another update, and by 3:50 he was given word that Bin Laden was "tentatively identified" as among those killed in the operation. At 7 p.m., Obama was told it was a "high probability" that it was, indeed, Bin Laden.
The entire operation took just 40-minutes and involved a small U.S. team, a senior administration official said.
In addition to Bin Laden, four others on the compound – an adult son of Bin Laden and two of Bin Laden's couriers – were killed in the strike on the compound in an affluent suburb about 35 miles outside of Islamabad. A woman, who an administration official said was used as a human shield, was also killed in the operation.
Administration officials offered scant details about how Bin Laden conducted himself in his final moments--only saying that he was felled in a firefight.
No Americans were killed in the operation, which was kept secret from the Pakistani government until after it was completed. But an administration official said that a Black Hawk helicopter was lost in the operation due to mechanical failure. (Click here for a more detailed description of the timeline for getting Bin Laden.)
Osama bin Laden made his final stand in a small Pakistani city where three army regiments with thousands of soldiers are based not far from the capital — a location that is increasing suspicions in Washington that Islamabad may have been sheltering him.
The U.S. acted alone in Monday's helicopter raid, did not inform Pakistan until it was over and pointedly did not thank Pakistan at the end of a wildly successful operation. All this suggests more strain ahead in a relationship that was already suffering because of U.S. accusations that the Pakistanis are supporting Afghan militants and Pakistani anger over American drone attacks and spy activity.
Pakistani intelligence agencies are normally very sharp in sniffing out the presence of foreigners in small cities.
Sen. Carl Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said bin Laden's location meant Pakistan had "a lot of explaining to do."
"I think this tells us once again that unfortunately Pakistan at times is playing a double game," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a member of the Armed Services Committee.
A senior Pakistan intelligence official dismissed speculation that bin Laden was being protected.
"We don't explain it. We just did not know — period," he said, on condition his name not be released to the media.
Suspicions that Pakistan harbors militants have been a major source of mistrust between the CIA and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI — though the two agencies have cooperated in the arrests of al-Qaida leaders since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, including several in towns and cities outside the border area.
For years, Western intelligence had said bin Laden was most likely holed up in a cave along the Pakistan-Afghan border, a remote region of soaring mountains and thick forests where the Pakistan army has little presence. But the 10-year hunt for the world's most-wanted man ended in a whitewashed, three-story house in a middle-class area of Abbottabad, a leafy resort city of 400,000 people nestled in pine-forested hills less than 35 miles from the national capital, Islamabad.
The compound, which an Obama administration official said was "custom built to hide someone of significance," was about a half-mile (one kilometer) away from the Kakul Military Academy, one of several military installations in the bustling, hill-ringed town.
"Personally I feel that he must have thought it was the safest area," said Asad Munir, a former ISI station chief in the northwest. "Abbottabad is a place no one would expect him to live."
It was unclear how long bin Laden had been holed up in the house with members of his family. From the outside, the house resembled many others in Pakistan and even had a flag flying from a pole in the garden, apparently a Pakistani one. It had high, barbed-wire topped walls, few windows and was located in a neighborhood of smaller houses, shops, dusty litter-lined streets and empty plots used for growing vegetables.
Neighbors said large Land Cruisers and other expensive cars were seen driving into the compound, but they had no indication that foreigners were living inside. Salman Riaz, a film actor, said that five months ago he and a crew tried to do some filming next to the house, but were told to stop by two men who came out.
A video aired by ABC News that purported to show the inside of the compound included footage of disheveled bedrooms with floors stained with large pools of blood and littered with clothes and paper. It also showed a dirt road outside the compound with large white walls on one side and a green agricultural field on the other.
"Why had Pakistan not spotted he is living in a nice tourist resort just outside Islamabad?" asked Gareth Price, a researcher at Chatham House think-tank in London. "It seems he was being protected by Pakistan. If that is the case, this will be hard for the two sides to carry on working together. Unless Pakistan can explain why they didn't know, it makes relations difficult."
Relations between Pakistan's main intelligence agency and the CIA had been very strained in recent months after a CIA contractor shot and killed two Pakistanis in January, bringing Pakistani grievances out into the open. Since then, a Pakistani official has said that joint operations had been stopped, and that the agency was demanding the Americans cut down on drone strikes in the border area.
The U.S. has fired hundreds of missiles into the border regions since 2008, taking out senior al-Qaida leaders in a tactic seen by many in Washington as vital to keeping the militant network and allied groups living in safe havens on the edge.
The Pakistani Taliban, an al-Qaida-allied group behind scores of bloody attacks in Pakistan and the failed bombing in New York's Times Square, vowed revenge.
"Let me make it very clear that we will avenge the martyrdom of Osama bin Laden, and we will do it by carrying out attacks in Pakistan and America," Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan told The Associated Press by phone. "We will teach them an exemplary lesson."
On one hand this is a great event for the United States. We have finally decapitated the world's most notorious terrorist organization and avenged the deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001.
On the other hand, it's not certain that the death of Osama really changes all that much of the big picture. Osama has been in hiding, effectively marginalized, for ten years. Did the execution of Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy or Albert Fish out an end to serial killings? No, but it was fit punishment for these monsters – a punishment most right thinking people demanded.
President Obama was careful to mention, once again, in his speech announcing bin Laden's death, that "we are not at war with Islam." But much of Islam is at war with us, and with the rest of the non-Islamic world, whether bin Laden is alive or not. Osama had a $25 million bounty on his head for ten years in one of the poorest countries in the world1, and nobody turned him in. It is difficult for me to believe that in Pakistan, one of the poorest nations in the world, there wasn’t someone who wanted that much cash. (According to the CIA World Factbook Pakistan's GDP per capita is an estimated $2,400)
Osama's death does not change the fact that Iran is enriching uranium for the purpose of obtaining nuclear weapons, and has threatened to "wipe Israel off the map."
It does not change the fact that bin Laden was hidden in Pakistan -- our supposed ally – for a decade. It does not change the fact that Pakistan is a seething cauldron of political instability, and if Islamic radicals ever throw a successful coup they will have control over 100 nuclear warheads.
It does not change the fact that the U.S. is still mired in a decade-long war against Afghan tribesmen, and is fruitlessly trying to midwife "democracy" while propping up one of the most corrupt governments on earth. It does not change the fact that on seven occasions this year, our Afghan "partners" have murdered U.S. servicemen trying to train them.
It does not change the fact that a Muslim U.S. Army officer murdered 13 troops at Ft. Hood, and that his radicalism was shielded by political correctness. It does not change the creeping advancement of Sharia law in the U.S. and the West.
It does not change the fact that the Middle East is experiencing political instability in Yemen, Libya, Egypt, Bahrain, and Syria, and that one or all of these countries could easily turn into another Islamic terrorist state like Iran.
Osama's death does not change the fact that Islamic terrorist attacks were carried out not just against the U.S., but also in London, Moscow, Mumbai, Bali, and Madrid.
It does not change the fact that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) under the leadership of Anwar al-Awlaki is now the major terrorist group in the world.
And it does not change the fact that Osama could have been taken fifteen years ago by the Clinton administration, but wasn't.
What will undoubtedly change is the political picture. Osama himself was much more of a political figurehead than an operational terrorist. (It was, after all, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, not Osama, who actually carried out 9/11). The ubiquitous television video of Osama visiting a terrorist camp and being handed an AK-47 betrays his lack of tactical skills. It's clear from that video that he was not a marksman; he was playing the role of a visiting politician, and his handling of the rifle was clearly a pose.
The political situation in the U.S. will also change dramatically. The death of bin Laden is a propaganda coup for the Obama administration. Expect to hear, ad nauseam, between now and the election that "Obama is the man who got bin Laden when Bush failed." It took only hours before T-Shirts were being passed out at the White House gates emblazoned with “Obama Got Osama.”
Bin Laden’s death is the most significant victory in the war on terror since the 9/11 attacks, more important than the arrest of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2006. Bin Laden’s elimination vindicates U.S. strategy in the region, started under President George W. Bush, and it will be seen as a major success for the United States, showing the world that America will remain committed to hunting down its enemies as long it takes.
As the sun rose this morning, the speculation and spin that the media will readily push out is that this now makes Barack Obama invulnerable to defeat in 2012.
It is an extraordinary accomplishment — one that defies partisanship. Because Barack Obama is President, like with upturns in the economy, he will get the credit.
But the lack of an upturn in the economy will, by 2012, be more relevant. People have short memories. Voters have short memories. The good will toward Mr. Obama will not last past one or two fill ups.
If the economy does not improve, if gas prices do not go down significantly, and if jobs are not created, Barack Obama will lose. The death of Osama Bin Laden is a good thing. But it has no staying power into 2012.
It is an interesting coincidence that the bin Laden raid was conducted within a week of Donald Trump putting a serious crack in Obama's carefully constructed façade. Surely the intelligence that put the crosshairs on bin Laden had been developed over several months, if not years. It is also interesting that Osama's body was disposed of almost immediately – in accordance with "Islamic custom," and it is interesting that the U.S. managed to conduct a raid deep inside Pakistan only two weeks after the Pakistani military demanded an end to U.S. UAV flights.