May 4, 2011

Killing of Osama bin Laden has rehabilitated reputation of US Government, officials

The following article was published by ANI on May 4, 2011.

The dust has already started to settle after President Barack Obama's dramatic announcement on Sunday evening that U.S. special forces had killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a late-night raid on a compound outside Abbottabad.The period since the formal announcement has produced a sizeable - if constantly revised and occasionally conflicting - body of detail about the operation to capture the world's most recognizable terrorist. In the process, the reputations of several individuals and entities have been rehabilitated.

First of all, the CIA is back. An important feature of the process that culminated in bin Laden's whereabouts being identified was the centrality of human intelligence, or humint as it is known in intelligence parlance. The key to bin Laden's invisibility was his avoidance of phones and the Internet for communication, and American intelligence officials understood that his courier network could be the only way to track him down. Identifying bin Laden's most trusted courier - whom early reports identified as Pakistani-Kuwaiti Sheikh Abu Ahmed a.k.a. Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti - required interrogating at least four detainees in Guantanamo Bay and CIA 'black sites,' including former al-Qaeda number threes Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libi. Serving and former CIA and Department of Justice officials have already pointed to this fact as justification for the controversial American detainee program, closely associated with President George W. Bush's tenure. It was only after Ahmed was identified using leads from these interrogations that his location could be ascertained by the U.S. National Security Agency following a phone call he made last year. He was then tracked to the compound in Abbottabad.

Second, Obama is back. The U.S. president had made himself an easy target for criticism on matters of national security. His tenure had witnessed some near misses in terms of major terrorist incidents, and he appeared committed to a premature, rapid, and potentially destabilizing military withdrawal from Afghanistan. Finally, his administration was portrayed as pliant on Russia and China, if sometimes justifiably. The operation to kill bin Laden suddenly places the president in a new light. Obama deserves plaudits for having overseen the refocus on bin Laden at the CIA, chaired at least five National Security Council meetings on this issue, weighed several risky options, and made a difficult call last week to proceed with the operation. The gamble has paid off, and while it will take some time before any of this is reflected in opinion polls, it is entirely possible that the president will have deflected criticism that may have been directed at him by Republican challengers. Republicans in Congress and influential right-wing commentators have been quick to praise his handling of this episode, sometimes enthusiastically.

Third, America is back. It may be tempting to dismiss the United States as a declining military force, but the bin Laden raid will help reverse that narrative. The United States' ability to unilaterally conduct a successful Special Forces operation deep in Pakistani territory is truly remarkable. The United States was able to send several helicopters across the Afghanistan-Pakistan frontier in a manner that reportedly evaded Pakistani radars. It also planned for the contingency of the Pakistani air force's engagement with the Special Forces helicopters, although the exact nature of that contingency plan remains unclear. The entire operation was precise and surgical despite minor snafus, a far cry from the Desert One and Mogadishu debacles that still cast a pall over high-profile American special operations.

There is a great deal of uncertainty about how the killing of bin Laden will impact both al Qaeda and Pakistan, specifically U.S.-Pakistan relations. Despite considerable public rancor, senior U.S. officials including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, White House counter-terrorism chief John Brennan, Senator John Kerry and House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner have underscored the need for the United States to continue engaging Pakistan, despite important questions remaining unanswered about the extent of state complicity in maintaining bin Laden's sanctuary. The extent of the fallout in terms of U.S.-Pakistan bilateral relations will only make itself apparent over the subsequent days and weeks. Meanwhile, Langley, the White House, and Washington can bask in the satisfaction of a job well done.