It can be of no doubt that many around the world are relieved, some even ecstatic, by the death of Osama bin Laden. Reports from all over the world following US President Obama’s announcement that US military personnel had killed bin Laden show scenes of jubilation in America, Europe, and even expressions of relief from many Muslim organisations around the world. However, there are many unanswered questions and even details that can be drawn out and analysed following the killing of bin Laden.
Bin Laden and al-Qaeda have been the US governments scapegoats and raison d’être
for a number of wars and even technically illegal drone attacks in areas like North Western Pakistan
for a very long time now. Whenever something violent happens in the news, one can be certain that buzzwords and terms such as “terrorists”, “Islamists”, “Jihadists”, and “al-Qaeda” will be bandied about and sensationalised in the mainstream media before any significant evidence has even been provided, and without a real intellectual understanding of what these terms really define and mean. It has become very convenient for governments around the world to declare many threats posed to them as representative of elements of al-Qaeda. Witness the crazed despot, Muammar al-Gaddafi, who insisted that the recent uprisings in Libya are a result of al-Qaeda dosing impressionable young men with hallucinogens. Clearly, that is one extreme example, but it is not hard to find others all over the world.
The most pertinent question is this; has the US known about bin Laden’s whereabouts for a long time and done nothing because it served their interests to have an international bogeyman? If the above is true, then it is clear that bin Laden had outlived his usefulness.
What is instantly striking about this US operation is that bin Laden was purported to be living in a compound worth millions of dollars in the city of Abbottabad, north of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad by some 100km. A CIA official was reported on Aljazeera as saying; “We were shocked by what we saw, an extraordinarily unique compound. It has 12-to-18-foot walls, topped with barbed wire; internal walls sectioned off different areas of the compound; access was restricted by two security gates”. In addition to all of this, it also had its own waste burning facility. If we compare bin Laden’s “hideout” with a previous fugitive hunted by the US, we can see instant oddities. When Saddam Hussein went on the run, he significantly changed his appearance, fled from place to place, and eventually was found hiding underground in what was dubbed a “spider hole”. Saddam, as we have been led to believe, was far less a wanted man than bin Laden, yet he went out of his way to travel discreetly and not stay in one place for too long. Bin Laden on the other hand lived in a fortified compound; hardly low profile. The waste disposal facility located inside would indicate that a large amount of people lived within, or at least transited through, this compound. The barbed wire walls and two security gates make this seem more like a military base than a hideout. How did the US find Saddam in an underground hole but could not find bin Laden in a suspicious complex? Also, surely bin Laden is not stupid enough to seek refuge in an eyesore like that unless he had some sort of assurances, and this leads to our next point.
President Obama’s administration was keen to distance itself from any link between their operation and collusion with the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). According to one US official, “An operation like this has the utmost operational security attached to it. No other country was informed, and a small circle of people within the United States new about it”. Considering that bin Laden’s compound has been shown to have been significantly brazen, and that according to Aljazeera it was not far from a Pakistani military academy, then it might be safe to conclude that Pakistan certainly was not informed by the US. Indeed, perhaps Pakistani ISI did the informing, as the CIA are apparently adept at finding targets to illegally send drones after but not good or even competent enough to find a blatant compound and investigate via easily bribed Pakistani sources who are known for their corruption. It might be interesting to view US-Pakistani relations in the coming months to see if Pakistan gains anything. If relations improve, then it hints at ISI knowledge of bin Laden’s whereabouts and also that they were seemingly just waiting for the right indication from the US so that they could let the cat out of the bag. If relations degenerate, then it is a possibility that Pakistan intended to hold onto bin Laden to maybe bargain with the US, but were coerced by Washington into handing bin Laden over or else suffering consequences. As it stands, the Pakistani foreign minister has declared this operation a “great victory” while Obama has said that Pakistan needs to do more in the fight against terrorism which perhaps indicates Pakistan’s desire to ingratiate themselves with the US, but their overtures are receiving a lukewarm response at best.
Finally, the decision to kill bin Laden is interesting in itself. Although Washington has said that US forces tried to capture bin Laden but were forced to kill him after he resisted, this can probably be discounted as hogwash. US forces brought in combat helicopters and enough firepower to devastate the compound, as images show fires amidst the wreckage. Going back to Saddam, he was captured easily enough without significant infrastructure damage and reportedly via the use of gas to render him unconscious. Saddam was hiding in a rural farm where gas use can potentially be dissipated depending on wind conditions and relative density of the gas compared to the air. Could similar tactics not have been used for bin Laden? After all, he was in a compound that was enclosed by high walls which meant that the area could have been saturated with less risk. Perhaps he was killed to make sure that he was never able to divulge information. As is well known, bin Laden had a relationship with the CIA when they used to provide him with arms and expertise. The fact that the ISI appeared to have been hosting bin Laden – and also that it is difficult to believe that the CIA did not know this – perhaps indicates that his relationship with the US extended beyond what has been commonly reported. Saddam Hussein was put on a trial that can largely be considered a sham. Whenever he was about to reveal something interesting, audio and video would be cut under the weak excuse of Iraqi national security. As bin Laden is not a head of state like Saddam, this excuse cannot be recycled and he could potentially reveal many embarrassing details about US activities so therefore he had to be killed.
Did bin Laden outlive his usefulness because he was no longer really taken as a serious threat? After all, al-Qaeda is about as collected and organised as thin air, and do not operate from any known bases (evidently excluding bin Laden himself). Additionally, the new Arab revolutions show that many across the Arab world do not care about al-Qaeda’s ideological leadership, and instead cherish the idea of freedom and democracy. If Arabs appear to be more democratic in the public eye, demonising them and some of their leaders via scare-mongering and the threat of al-Qaeda becomes less credible and less workable. Saddam’s Iraq was accused of harbouring al-Qaeda, but it would have been difficult to believe that if Iraq had a leader who was considered to be democratically elected and who also engaged with other international democracies. Now, however, Obama can claim a major domestic political victory and will likely use it in his next election campaign. In terms of real gain, nothing has really been achieved with the death of bin Laden. As US military analyst Mark Kimmet said, bin Laden has not directly led al-Qaeda for many years and was more of a figurehead. This analysis is apt, though obvious, and shows that the “War on Terror” will likely continue unabated.
(the-war-journal.blogspot.com / 02.05.2011)