The great international manhunt came to an end last night, as the United States finally got their man. Osama bin Laden, the terrorist mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks and countless other atrocities around the world, was killed in a daring raid on a mansion in Abbottabad, Pakistan, a wealthy neighborhood some 50 kilometers north of Islamabad. This moment, nearly ten years in waiting, touched off jubilant celebrations from New York to Los Angeles and beyond. President Obama remarked that this moment is “the most significant achievement” in the War on Terror, and he couldn’t be more correct. However, amidst the euphoria and celebration of the news late Sunday night, there was a shroud of mystery surrounding the raid that deserves to be addressed. How did bin Laden make his way across Pakistan away from the Tora Bora Mountains without being noticed? Why did nobody suspect anything was amiss in that neighborhood when a giant mansion with 18-foot walls was erected, dwarfing every other house in the area? Most importantly, how did the Pakistani government not realize that the most wanted man in the world was practically in their backyard, and living near one of the largest military bases in the country? Even though he was finally found and killed, new suspicions have arisen, leaving one to wonder how friendly American-Pakistani relations really are, or if we’ve been played like a fiddle for the past decade.
Let’s focus on the mission itself to start with. According to military sources, this raid had been in the plans for the last four years. The reason it didn’t commence earlier was apparently because the units that took part in the mission needed to be trained to handle such a vast, protected complex, and they had to confirm that bin Laden was actually there. This cautious approach was necessary because the neighborhood the house was in is no slum: it’s an affluent neighborhood far from the combat zone, and right on the doorstep of a supposedly friendly government. There was a great risk that this mission would go pear-shaped, and have ruinous consequences for diplomatic relations with Islamabad if the house had held just innocent people. It was a bold decision on the part of President Obama to sign off on such a mission, knowing the risks involved and the political hot-water he would be in if the suspicions were wrong. Luckily for him, and for the soldiers that took part in this historic raid, the intelligence was correct, and the most wanted criminal on the planet was taken out.
Unfortunately, it seems it didn’t matter very much if the mission was successful or not in terms of our partnership with Islamabad. The success of the mission only raised more questions regarding where the Pakistani military and government’s allegiances really lie. We all knew that fraud and two-timing deals are the norm with this country, but the fact that bin Laden had been hiding in plain sight for all these years, in a part of the country that is as heavily militarized as Abbottabad, is troublesome. There might be reason to believe that the Pakistani government knew he was there all along, and was using his presence there for leverage against the United States, especially when it came to coordinating counter-terror attacks on the Afghani-Pakistani border. We now know that bin Laden was nowhere near that area, debunking years of assurance to the contrary, and somebody either on the Pakistani side or our side has some explaining to do.
A problem I have with the media’s response to this event is that there seems to be a consensus that with bin Laden out of the picture, al-Qaeda and the Taliban will crumble. I find this hard to believe for a multitude of reasons. First of all, al-Qaeda is an elaborate terrorist network, and it would be surprising if they didn’t have a successor-in-waiting in the event of bin Laden’s death. What is more troubling is how the organization will react upon hearing the news, and what consequences will their actions have on innocent civilians across the world. In the US, security has been beefed up at all airports and possible places a terrorist attack may go down, and governments across the Western world are following suit. While nobody expects a repeat of 9/11 to happen again, attacks like the Madrid train bombings and the 7/7 attacks on London’s transportation system are possible, and relatively easy to plan and carry out. These next few days and weeks are going to be some of the most nerve-wracking of the last decade, especially when we don’t know if al-Qaeda is going to be a force anymore without its leader and spiritual guide. As for the Taliban, they will definitely still be around, and still pose a threat to the Afghani government and people, as well as to the troops still over there. Make no mistake; this is no time to let our guard down. These terrorists are battered, but not beaten.
Politically, this moment couldn’t have come at a better time for Obama, who’s foreign and military policies have been much criticized by both Democrats and Republicans as of late, especially in regards to the war in Libya. While the success of the operation can and should be credited to the military commanders and the soldiers that took part in the planning and execution, the President is still the commander-in-chief, and signing off on this mission was a gutsy move. Also, headed into the 2012 elections, he has a huge weapon in his re-election bag of tricks now, and it’s a weapon that we can expect him to use repeatedly in his campaign, especially if the economy is still lagging. His approval rating is going to go through the roof over the next few days, I’m expected it to peak at around 60%, but any wartime spike in approval is usually short lived, and it won’t be much longer before his numbers come back down to Earth, especially since there are still many more problems the country is currently facing and he is still struggling with. Still, he has that one-up on President Bush that nobody thought he would achieve: during his presidency, bin Laden was found, and justice was done.