By Sultan M. Hali
The US Navy SEALS, who conducted the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound early Sunday, messaged to the White House: "Geronimo. E-KIA," indicating the code name of the operation, “Geronimo”, the enemy has been killed in action. U.S. President Barack Obama appeared in a hastily arranged televised address the night of May 1, 2011, to inform the world that U.S. counterterrorism forces had located and killed Osama bin Laden. The operation, which reportedly happened in the early hours of May 2, targeted a compound in Abbotabad. The nighttime raid resulted in a brief firefight that left bin Laden and several others dead. A U.S. helicopter reportedly was damaged in the raid and later destroyed by U.S. forces. Obama reported that no U.S. personnel were lost in the operation.
After a brief search of the compound, the U.S. forces left with bin Laden's body and presumably anything else that appeared to have intelligence value. From Obama's carefully scripted speech, it would appear that the U.S. conducted the operation unilaterally with no Pakistani assistance—or even knowledge. If one recalls Hillary Clinton’s comment during her last visit to Islamabad, she had stepped on a number of toes with her comment: “I’m not saying that they’re at the highest levels, but I believe that somewhere in this government are people who know where Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda is, where Mullah Omar and the leadership of the Afghan Taliban is, and we expect more cooperation to help us bring to justice, capture or kill those who attacked us on 9/11.” She must be having a smirk on her face depicting “I told you so”.
Indeed Operation Geronimo brings out more questions than answers. The US media is asking how Osama was able to live for six years in the compound undetected by Pakistani intelligence agencies unless he had support from within. The question that the people of Pakistan want answers to start with: was the Pakistani military in the knowledge of Operation Geronimo before it was executed? If not then how did the US Navy Seals helicopters penetrate so deep into Pakistan, conduct their raid and egress undetected. If this is true then the taxpayers are highly perturbed as to what use are the air defence systems and the other implements of early warning, which were caught napping.
We have witnessed the eruption of spontaneous celebrations in Washington DC as well as in New York, where the families of the 9/11 victims looked for closure to their grief. Indeed 9/11 was a terrible catastrophe but look at Pakistan and Afghanistan, who have each lost more than 30,000 civilians and 5,000 security personnel. Collectively this is 700% more than the souls lost in 9/11. The aim is not to belittle the grief of 9/11 affectees’ families but to draw attention to Pakistan’s predicament. US authorities are now trying to justify the torture, harassment and even water boarding of the inmates of Guantánamo Bay military prison, providing the rationale that this information led to the successful tracking and targeting of Osama bin Laden.
It is time to address what effects the death of bin Laden will have on Pak-US relations? It is imperative that to appreciate the impact of bin Laden's death on the global jihadist movement, we must first remember that the phenomenon of jihadism is far wider than just the al Qaeda core leadership of bin Laden and his closest followers. Stratfor, a US think tank opines that rather than a monolithic entity based on the al Qaeda group, jihadism has devolved into a far more diffuse network composed of many different parts. These parts include the core al Qaeda group formerly headed by bin Laden; a network of various regional franchise groups such as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; and last, a broad array of grassroots operatives who are adherents to the jihadist ideology but who are not formally affiliated with the al Qaeda core or one of the regional franchises.
The al Qaeda core always has been a fairly small and elite vanguard. Since 9/11, intense pressure has been placed upon this core organization by the U.S. government and its allies. This pressure has resulted in the death or capture of many al Qaeda cadres and has served to keep the group small due to overriding operational security concerns. This insular group has laid low in Pakistan, and this isolation has significantly degraded its ability to conduct attacks. All of this has caused the al Qaeda core to become primarily an organization that produces propaganda and provides guidance and inspiration to the other jihadist elements rather than an organization focused on conducting operations. While bin Laden and the al Qaeda core have received a great deal of media attention, the core group comprises only a very small portion of the larger jihadist movement.
While the al Qaeda core has been marginalized recently, it has practiced good operational security and has been able to protect its apex leadership for nearly 10 years from one of the most intense manhunts in human history. It clearly foresaw the possibility that one of its apex leaders could be taken out and planned accordingly. This means keeping bin Laden and his deputy, Egyptian physician Ayman al-Zawahiri, in different locations and having a succession plan. There is also very little question that al-Zawahiri is firmly in command of the core group. Even prior to bin Laden's death, many analysts considered al-Zawahiri to be the man in charge of most of the operational aspects of the al Qaeda group — the "chief executive officer," with bin Laden being more of a figurehead or "chairman of the board." That said, the intelligence collected during the operation against bin Laden could provide leads to track down other leaders, and this may make them nervous in spite of their efforts to practice good operational security. The survival of the ideology of jihadism means the threat of terrorist attacks remains.
This analysis makes it imperative for the US and Pakistan to maintain close cooperation to defeat terrorism and make the world a safer place.