In dramatic fashion and after numerous delays from the initially announced time, President Obama announced late Sunday night that the United States has killed Osama Bin Laden in the outskirts of
Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. After recent months which have seen US-Pakistan relations stretched to the breaking point multiple times over the US killing three Pakistani soldiers at a border crossing (resulting in Pakistan briefly closing off US supply routes to Afghanistan) and then the arrest of CIA agent Raymond Davis after he killed two men in Lahore (resulting in Pakistan dropping out of the trilateral talks with the US and Afghanistan) this latest development immediately puts Pakistan in a bad light for repeatedly denying Bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan, despite evidence now that the compound where he was killed appears to have been built specifically for him in 2005.
The video above shows Obama’s dramatic announcement. From the text of his statement, we see this about Pakistan’s involvement in the operation that killed Bin Laden:
Over the years, I’ve repeatedly made clear that we would take action within Pakistan if we knew where bin Laden was. That is what we’ve done. But it’s important to note that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding. Indeed, bin Laden had declared war against Pakistan as well, and ordered attacks against the Pakistani people.
Tonight, I called President Zardari, and my team has also spoken with their Pakistani counterparts. They agree that this is a good and historic day for both of our nations. And going forward, it is essential that Pakistan continue to join us in the fight against al Qaeda and its affiliates.
A close reading of Obama’s words here, supplemented with additional information that has been released, allows us to surmise that ISI was involved in background work that helped to set the stage for this operation, but once specific information was developed and as the actual operation was planned and carried out, Pakistan was left out of discussions.
This operation is remarkable in part for the conventional knowledge which has been turned on its head. Many believed Bin Laden was hiding out in a primitive cave in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan, and yet he was actually living in a luxurious compound only a thousand feet from Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point. Many believed that Bin Laden only could be taken through use of drones, and yet it was painstaking work much more akin to old-fashioned police work that found his compound and resulted in his death when he and those around him took up arms in response to the task force entering the compound.
In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the US faced a moment of decision for how it would interact with the world community. The administration of George W. Bush chose an aggressive, belligerent stance that has resulted in the overthrow of the governments of Afghanistan and Iraq, followed by ongoing occupations of those countries and a very heavy-handed approach throughout the world, including the implementation of torture.
The nature of how Bin Laden was found and killed suggests that an approach much more focused on Bin Laden himself and his key associates would have been a much better approach. It was intelligence heavy-lifting that took the one clue that appears to have come from a Guantanamo detainee (a key question not answered is how this information was obtained; I’m betting it wasn’t through torture), the operational, but not real, name of Bin Laden’s most trusted courier.
There will be much bellowing from the war mongers in our midst that Bin Laden’s killing does not end the Great War on Terror and that we must extend our occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. I call on our President instead to use this opportunity for a complete reset of the US approach to terrorism. An honest review of where we are and how we have gotten here has to acknowledge the death and destruction that our toppling of the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan has wreaked. Perhaps even more important, though, is that an honest evaluation also would show that these operations only got in the way of, and greatly prolonged, the search for the perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks. We have created many more enemies of the United States through our choice of methods for responding to the 9/11 attacks.
Obama has the perfect opportunity now to explain to the world community that the approach taken by the United States has been in error. Our success in finding Bin Laden came from focused intelligence work, not from killing huge numbers of people and letting God sort them out. Now is the perfect time to begin a real withdrawal of forces from Iraq and Afghanistan. It would illustrate that, as Obama said Sunday night, “the United States is not –- and never will be -– at war with Islam”. The best way to achieve the security Obama seeks when he also said “The cause of securing our country is not complete” is to acknowledge how the US overstepped in its response to 9/11 and that with Bin Laden’s death, we can turn that page and return to a peaceful stance rather than being an occupying power.