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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Tactical Irrelevance of Osama bin Laden's Death

‘Cognitive Dissonance: (noun) contradictory mental state: a state of psychological conflict or anxiety resulting from a contradiction between a person's simultaneously held beliefs or attitudes and presented facts.”

Before I get into the focus of this blog post I have to report on one of the more stupid and narcissistic statement I have ever heard. The Los Angeles Times Reports that; “Osama bin Laden dead: Yes, SEALs were in on the raid, but aides hail Obama's office bravery.”

According to another one of those White House briefings of reporters designed to suck up all available credit for good news, President Obama's homeland security advisor reveals that it was a really tense time in the air-conditioned White House as unidentified U.S. Navy SEALs closed in on the world's most wanted man after midnight a half a world away.”

“Minutes passed like days," says John Brennan, who bravely stood with press secretary Jay Carney before reporters and TV cameras today chronicling his boss' weekend heroics.”

“The heavily-armed commandos flying in a quartet of darkened Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters more than 100 miles into Pakistan were probably listening to their iPods and discussing the NFL draft.”

"The concern was that bin Laden would oppose any type of capture operation," said Obama's Sherlock Holmes. So U.S. troops were prepared "for all contingencies."

“In fact, this weekend was such a tense time in the White House that Obama only got in nine holes of golf. But he still managed to deliver his joke script to the White House Correspondents Assn. dinner Saturday evening.”

“Sunday was, Brennan revealed to his eager audience, "probably one of the most anxiety-filled periods of times in the lives of the people assembled here." Poor poor bureaucrats. Extra Tums all around. Did someone order dinner?”

If Brennan’s comments aren’t the most self-serving, narcissistic, stupid statement I have ever heard, then I don’t know what is. To say that the “heroic” actions of the bureaucrats sitting in the White House situation room could compare to the efforts and a danger faced by SEAL Team 6 is blatant poppycock.

The children are celebrating and taking credit for the death of Osama bin Laden, but make no mistake about it, this is a win for the adults. This will give Obama a short-term boost in the polls, but I submit after a few days or weeks of liberal celebration, reality will start to sink in for more and more Americans.

Now by adults, I mean folks mature enough to understand that the world is a mean place ruled by the aggressive use of power and that the only way to stop evil from ruling is for the good guys to use more power and to use it more aggressively.

And by children, I mean the overgrown juveniles who refuse to understand this reality as it is and who like to think the Muslim world adored us until Bush-Cheney and Rumsfeld came to power. Long before election day of 2012, this will become evident.

Because when you drill down, the death of bin Laden has nothing to do with the core beliefs of this President or the entire liberal movement.

The death of bin Laden has nothing to do with closing Guantanamo Bay. It has nothing to do with trying Kahlid Sheik Muhummad in New York City. It has nothing to do with avoiding collateral damage at our own soldiers' peril and it has nothing to do with Patti Murray's gushing about bin Laden's day care centers.

We did not kill bin Laden by trying to understand why they hate us so much and we did not do it by allowing Jamie Gorelick to keep our CIA and FBI and Special Forces from talking to each other.

We did not do it because we allow gays in the military or because we set lower standards for certain groups so as not to hurt their self-esteem. We did not kill him because we unionized TSA agents thereby memorializing their right to grope us without fear of losing their jobs.

Killing bin Laden was not the result of Teddy Kennedy sanctimoniously railing against Abu Ghraib nor was it the result of Cindy Sheehan's hatred of George W. Bush. The protestations by liberals — including John McCain — against waterboarding and other forms of enhanced interrogation techniques had nothing to do with this either.

Code Pink was not involved, and this strike had nothing to do with Obama's doctrine of "courageous restraint." This operation did not involve the UN and it was not multi-lateral.

And for sure, the supposed worldwide peace and respect the mere election of Barack Obama was going to bring the United States had nothing to do with it either. In fact, as I add it up, there is not one single scintilla of liberal thought or policy that had anything to do with the successful operation by SEAL Team Six, no matter what John Brennan has to say.

Having said that now on to the subject of this post.

The killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden represents possibly the biggest clandestine operations success for the United States since the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in 2003. The confirmation of his death is an emotional victory for the United States and could have wider effects on the geopolitics of the region, but bin Laden’s death is irrelevant for al Qaeda and the wider jihadist movement from an operational perspective.

Americans continued to celebrate the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden well into May 2 outside the White House, near the World Trade Center site in New York and elsewhere. The operation that led to bin Laden’s death at a compound deep in Pakistan is among the most significant operational successes for U.S. intelligence in the past decade. While it is surely an emotional victory for the United States and one that could have consequences both for the U.S. role in Afghanistan and for relations with Pakistan, bin Laden’s elimination will have very little effect on al Qaeda as a whole and the wider jihadist movement.

Due to bin Laden’s status as the most-wanted individual in the world, any communications he carried out with other known al Qaeda operatives risked interception, and thus risked revealing his location. This forced him to be extremely careful with communications for operational security and essentially required him to give up an active role in command-and-control in order to remain alive and at large. He reportedly used a handful of highly trusted personal couriers to maintain communication and had no telephone or Internet connection at his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Limited as his communications network was, if news reports are accurate, one of these couriers was compromised and tracked to the compound, enabling the operation against bin Laden.

Because of bin Laden’s aforementioned communications limitations, since October 2001 when he fled Tora Bora after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, he has been relegated to a largely symbolic and ideological role in al Qaeda. Accordingly, he has issued audiotapes on a little more than a yearly basis, whereas before 2007 he was able to issue videotapes. The growing infrequency and decreasing quality of his recorded messages was most notable when al Qaeda did not release a message marking the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in September 2010 but later followed up with a tape on Jan. 21, 2011.

The reality of the situation is that the al Qaeda core — the central group including leaders like bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri — has been eclipsed by other jihadist actors on the physical battlefield, and over the past two years it has even been losing its role as an ideological leader of the jihadist struggle. The primary threat is now posed by al Qaeda franchise groups like al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the latter of which may have carried out the recent attack in Marrakech, Morocco. But even these groups are under intense pressure by local government and U.S. operations, and much of the current threat comes from grassroots and lone wolf attackers. These actors could attempt to stage an attack in the United States or elsewhere in retribution for bin Laden’s death, but they do not have the training or capabilities for high-casualty transnational attacks.

STRATFOR long considered the possibility that bin Laden was already dead, and in terms of his impact on terrorist operations, he effectively was. That does not mean, however, that he was not an important ideological leader or that he was not someone the United States sought to capture or kill for his role in carrying out the most devastating terrorist attack in U.S. history.

Aggressive U.S. intelligence collection efforts have come to fruition, as killing bin Laden was perhaps the top symbolic goal for the CIA and all those involved in U.S. covert operations. Indeed, Obama said during his speech May 1 that upon entering office, he had personally instructed CIA Director Leon Panetta that killing the al Qaeda leader was his top priority. The logistical challenges of catching a single wanted individual with bin Laden’s level of resources were substantial, and while 10 years later, the United States was able to accomplish the objective it set out to do in October 2001. The bottom line is that from an operational point of view, the threat posed by al Qaeda — and the wider jihadist movement — is no different operationally after his death.

The death of Osama bin Laden is unlikely to have much of a tactical impact on the wider jihadist movement, but the killing does carry significant implications for U.S. foreign policy moving forward.

Let’s look at the most obvious fact. Bin Laden was not killed up in the tribal borderlands between Afghanistan and Pakistan — he was killed in a highly secured compound, deep in Pakistani territory. The operation, carried out by U.S. Navy SEALs, appears to have been done independently by the United States and kept from the Pakistanis in order to avoid having the operation compromised, as the United States has been burned a number of times by Pakistani intelligence (ISI) in pursuing high-value targets. U.S.-Pakistani distress is really nothing new, but the details of the operation do raise very important questions on the trajectory of U.S.-Pakistani relations moving forward. Pakistan knows very well, and the U.S. begrudgingly acknowledges, that the Pakistanis have vital intelligence links to al Qaeda and Taliban targets that determine the level of success the United States will have in this war. That is a reality the United States has to deal with and Pakistan uses those intelligence links as critical leverage in its relationship with Washington — as in obtaining billions of dollars each year in foreign aid.

But what does Pakistan want out of its relationship with Washington? Pakistan no doubt has been severely destabilized by the U.S. war in Afghanistan. That has in effect produced in indigenous Taliban insurgency in Pakistani territory. At the same time, Pakistan has a longer-term strategic need to hold onto an external power patron, like the United States, to fend against its much more powerful and larger neighbor to the East - India. And so that puts the United States and Pakistan in quite the dilemma. No matter how frustrated the United States becomes with Pakistani duplicity in managing the jihadist threat, the United States cannot avoid the fact that it needs to rely on Pakistan in order to forge a political understanding with the Taliban in Afghanistan in order to shape an exit from the war in Afghanistan.

In the short term, and Obama even carefully alluded to this in his speech last night, the United States needs, and more importantly expects, Pakistani cooperation in order to meet its goal of exiting the war in Afghanistan. But the Pakistanis, now feeling more vulnerable than ever, do not want this war to end feeling used and abused by the United States. The Pakistanis want the United States to not only recognize Pakistan’s sphere of influence in Afghanistan but also want that long-term strategic and financial support from Washington. The United States will continue conducting a complex balancing act on the subcontinent between India and Pakistan but really there’s very little hiding that deep level of distrust between Washington and Islamabad.

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