In a “compound” near an area deep inside Pakistan called Abottabad — not far from the capital of Islamabad — U.S. operatives engaged in a “firefight” with bin Laden’s handlers, Obama said, and killed the terrorist leader. This was no drone strike. It was a “small team” of U.S. operatives, pulling the trigger and delivering what the president called “justice” on a man responsible for the deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans.
According to a senior administration official, the raid itself took less than 40 minutes. Bin Laden “did resist the assault force,” the official says, but was shot “as our operators came into the compound.” A woman was used as a human shield but doesn’t appear to have died in the firefight — unlike one of bin Laden’s adult sons and two “couriers.”
The operation was the result of eight months of intelligence work, with Obama giving the order to carry out the operation last week. Obama didn’t exactly specify, but it appears bin Laden’s death is the result of a joint operation by the CIA and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command.
But Obama said that bin Laden’s body has been recovered. It’s unclear where the body is, or if and when it will be be shown to the public. The senior administration official says that it’s being handled “in accordance with Islamic practices and traditions.”
via Danger Room.
Bin Laden’s escape from U.S. forces at Tora Bora in 2001 became a potent symbol of American impotence. Since bin Laden reconstituted al-Qaida’s senior leadership in Pakistan, a terrorist cell defined by hijacked religious symbolism and conspiracy theories franchised operations to affiliates from Iraq to Yemen, willing itself into a geopolitical force and killing thousands worldwide. Bin Laden’s appearances in years’ worth of audio- and videotapes mocked the United States and pledged to “bleed it to bankruptcy.”
Starting in 2008, the United States massively accelerated attacks from armed Predator drones over the Afghanistan border in Pakistan, killing hundreds. It built an intelligence network in Pakistani tribal areas, largely from scratch and with — to be charitable — inconsistent assistance from the Pakistani intelligence service.
Obama said that the operation couldn’t have happened without Pakistani cooperation. But the senior administration official says that the Pakistanis didn’t know about the raid until after it occurred, citing the need for the “utmost operational security.”
There’s a longstanding debate in counterterrorism circles about the importance of bin Laden to al-Qaida. For years, al-Qaida theoreticians, chief among them a man known as Abu Musab al-Suri, have attempted to refashion al-Qaida into a global movement that can outlast bin Laden. Al-Qaida’s Yemen branch, in its English language magazine, has discouraged American Muslims from joining the jihad overseas, urging them instead to launch attacks inside the United States on their own.
Al-Qaida has now sustained two massive blows to its relevance in the past few months. First, the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia refuted al-Qaida’s argument that only violent actions focused on the “far enemy” — the United States — could overthrow sclerotic dictatorships. Now bin Laden is dead, without a charismatic figure to take his place. For al-Qaida, it’s show-and-prove time.