On May 1st, 116 months after master-minding a ruthless attack against the US, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s luck ran out. Almost five years earlier, luck had run its course as well for the man Osama had anointed as the “Emir of al-Qaeda” in Iraq, Abu Masab al-Zarqawi. Both were Islamic extremists who believed no price was too great to extract in conducting their jihad against the West. Ironically, as each drew his last breath in this world, his eyes would lock upon the same sight—the onrush of American warriors hellbent on administering justice to them—either dead or alive.
Zarqawi’s end came in 2006 after two 500 pound bombs were dropped on his safe house in Iraq, but he lived long enough to see US forces rush in to verify the kill. Osama’s end was more immediate—bullets to the head and chest in a firefight after US Navy SEALs entered his compound near Islamabad. Their mission successfully completed, the SEALs then departed with Osama’s body for DNA testing to verify identity and for later burial at sea so as to deny his followers a martyr’s grave at which to worship.
It is ironic the death of this mass murderer comes almost 66 years to the day after that of another’s—Adolf Hitler. Both men chose to inflict violence upon those who were different than they, even targeting women and children. As a result, both murderers suffered a violent end, never living to see their objectives achieved. There is a significant difference, however, between what followed Hitler’s death and what will follow bin Laden’s.
Hitler’s death was self-inflicted—the last act of a brutal leader recognizing his dream of a world dominant Aryan race was to be denied. While Osama’s death came at the hands of Navy SEALs, the jihadi fire he started on 9/11 still burns brightly. While the West has worked hard to shut down al-Qaeda communication and financial networks, smaller franchise al-Qaeda cells have emerged. When Hitler died, the concept of the Third Reich died with him. But with bin Laden’s death, the concept of a world dominated by Islam remains a dream to be pursued by other Islamists. For this reason, President Obama’s claim that “The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al Qaeda” rings hollow.
The President’s statement is revealing too for what it fails to state.
“Shortly after taking office,” the President said, “I directed…the director of the CIA to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of our war against al Qaeda, even as we continued our broader efforts to disrupt, dismantle and defeat his network. Then, last August, after years of painstaking work by our intelligence community, I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden. It was far from certain, and it took many months to run this thread to ground…”
Just like bin Laden was a top priority for this Administration, he initially was for the previous one as well. Ironically, as the Bush Administration kept closing in on Osama, a free press kept revealing information helping him avoid capture. After the press revealed cell phones were being monitored, he stopped using them; after the press revealed the terrain behind bin Laden in the periodic videos he released was being studied by geologists for clues as to location, Osama used blankets as a backdrop; etc.
But, for a President quick to blame various woes of his term on the policies of his predecessor, President Obama failed to give credit to President Bush where credit is due. For it was intelligence gleaned by the Bush Administration after 9/11 that provided the initial thread leading to Osama’s whereabouts. The much maligned interrogation techniques used, resulted in a name being surrendered. It would still take years of detective work but, eventually, a pair of brothers—trusted couriers for Osama—were identified.
Monitoring their movements eventually revealed the two lived in a huge compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, surrounded by higher-than-usual walls topped with barbed wire. Eight times larger in size than surrounding mansions and costing over a million dollars, the residence strangely lacked access to outside communications by telephone or internet. Trash was burned rather than being put out for regular pickup.
These suspicions had to be weighed against other considerations: how was it possible for construction on bin Laden’s compound to begin in 2005 on property owned by the Pakistani military; how could he reside there for six months undetected within view of a Pakistani police station and near the equivalent of Pakistan’s “West Point?”
The obvious answers to these questions prompted the US to launch the attack without advance notice to Pakistani officials. Either active participants in hiding bin Laden or providing tacit approval, Pakistani officials were not going to be given the opportunity to tip the terrorist off ahead of time.
By the time the 40 minute assault was over, four males—Osama, his son, and the two brother couriers—and a female lay dead. That the raid was conducted successfully with no US casualties was cause for euphoria in the West.
In his statement, the President neglected two final issues.
First, a Pakistani government receiving billions of dollars in aid has a lot of explaining to do about its complicity in hiding Osama. The bottom line is while we fear Islamic extremists might take over the government there, it appears they may already have. Why continue then to give them US tax dollars?
Second, the President still refuses to label Osama an “Islamist.” He avoids any negative connotation to Islam, simply saying we are not at war with the religion. He would have better served us to include an Osama quote that is both prophetic yet very telling about the enemy mindset we face in a post-bin Laden world. “I am a person who loves death,” Osama once told a journalist. “The Americans love life. I will engage them and fight. I will not surrender. If I am to die, I would like to be killed by the bullet.”
On May 1st, bin Laden got his wish and those of us seeking justice got ours. But we still face a future world in which those who love death will threaten those of us who love life.
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