By Brigitte L. Nacos
Last night and this morning, when Americans cheered the breaking news of Osama bin Laden’s death in spontaneous public gatherings in front of the White House, in Times Square, at Ground Zero, and elsewhere around the country, they had good reasons. Finally, nearly ten years after the attacks of 9/11, a team of U.S. Special Operations Forces neutralize once and for all the founder and leader of Al Qaeda. This is a big symbolic victory not only for this nation but for countries and peoples around the globe that have been terrorized for long by Al Qaeda Central and its actual and virtual networks of affiliates and like-minded extremists.
Killing in the name of Al Qaeda and its leaders’ twisted ideas has always meant to target not only Christians and Jews but also Muslims. Al Qaeda’s claim that bin Laden’s terrorists fight a jihad against the West and its so-called Crusader-Zionist evil-doers has been contradicted again and again by the fact that their attacks killed far more Muslims and Arabs than Westerners. This is a message that has not been emphasized enough in the past.
Taking out the head of Al Qaeda does not mean the end of the organization and its violence. For the near future in particular, there is reason to expect a spike in plots and attacks in response to bin Laden’s death from groups and individuals that belong to Al Qaeda Central or have bought into the group’s ideology of violence. For his supporters and sympathizers, bin Laden as “martyr” may have a more powerful attraction and recruitment power than the remote man in hiding. Hopefully, computer hard drives and other material removed by special operations forces from the compound will reveal the identities and whereabouts of other Al Qaeda figures.
The location of bin Laden’s hideaway, not the remote border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan but the city of Abbotabad, not far from Islamabad, questions the true agenda of Pakistan’s government and, more importantly, the Pakistani military and Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency. After all, bin Laden’s hideaway compound was next door to a West Point-like military academy and close to a major military base. That the high security facility was built a few years ago in the midst of a country that receives yearly $1 billion from the U.S. for its contribution to counterterrorism measures is more than disconcerting.
But there is also good news: This was a flawlessly executed mission of special forces commandos under the direction of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Thinking back of failed hostage rescue mission in Iran some three decades ago, when Delta Force was still in its infancy and joint special forces did not yet exist, one cannot help but applaud the high caliber of today’s special forces that draw from all four military services.
This last performance underscores the argument for increasing joint special operations forces significantly at the expense of conventional forces: special forces, not the conventional military branches of the past, are best suited for the unsymmetrical warfare of the 21st century.
Finally, President Obama deserves credit for giving the green light for the mission. He must have been aware how risky it was to land helicopters in a compound in the shadow of Pakistan’s military and capture or kill bin Laden. Had the mission failed, Obama would be today in the same predicament President Jimmy Carter was in April 1980, when the Iranian rescue mission ended in disaster at Desert One.