Ever since the death of Osama bin Laden, President Obama and his senior lieutenants have been telling war-weary Americans that the end of the nation’s longest conflict is within sight. “Core al-Qaeda is a shell of its former self,” Obama said in a speech in May. “This war, like all wars, must end.” That was the triumphal tone of last year’s reelection campaign, too.
The truth is much grimmer. Intelligence officials and terrorism experts today believe that the death of bin Laden and the decimation of the Qaeda “core” in Pakistan only set the stage for a rebirth of al-Qaeda as a global threat. Its tactics have morphed into something more insidious and increasingly dangerous as safe havens multiply in war-torn or failed states—at exactly the moment we are talking about curtailing the National Security Agency’s monitoring capability. And the jihadist who many terrorism experts believe is al-Qaeda's new strategic mastermind, Abu Musab al-Suri (a nom de guerre that means “the Syrian”), has a diametrically different approach that emphasizes quantity over quality. The red-haired, blue-eyed former mechanical engineer was born in Aleppo in 1958 as Mustafa Setmariam Nasar; he has lived in France and Spain. Al-Suri is believed to have helped plan the 2004 train bombings in Madrid and the 2005 bombings in London—and has been called the “Clausewitz” of the new al-Qaeda.
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Bin Laden relied on two local handlers to arrange his stay in Pakistan, and especially after the 2003 arrest of Muhammad, the group was very cautious. Bin Laden himself never left the compound in Abbottabad, and his handlers never used cell phones near the home, driving hours away to use public phones in cities like Peshawar. When his wife had to go to the hospital to give birth, the handlers told doctors she was deaf and dumb, so they would not discover she was an Arab. During the six years bin Laden and the handlers’ families lived together, their interactions were tightly controlled. It seems like no one but the handlers were allowed to meet bin Laden himself, and their wives and children were actively misguided about who their neighbor upstairs really was.
The closest bin Laden came to being caught was when, before moving to Abbottabad, the car he was traveling in was stopped by police for speeding. The police never found out he was one of the passengers.
Yet the report points out there were a number of occasions where Pakistani officials, if they had been doing their jobs, should have caught bin Laden. No Pakistani official has acknowledged the authenticity of the 337-page report."
We’ve heard this before, but The Washington Post has an attention-grabbing headline this morning: “U.S. officials believe al-Qaeda on brink of collapse.” More specifically, The Post cites closed-door meetings between counter terrorism officials and says that “a widespread view at the CIA and other agencies [is] that a relatively small number of additional blows could effectively extinguish the Pakistan-based organization.” Osama bin Laden’s death at the hands of the Navy SEAL team was referred to as “the turning point.”
Beyond bin Laden, “we have eliminated a number of generations of leaders,” said a senior U.S. counterterrorism official. “They have not had a successful operation in a long time. You at some point have to ask yourself, ‘What else do we have to do?’”
The death of Osama Bin Laden brought many revelations — from quirky discoveries about his personal habits to looming questions about the nation that harbored him. It also drove home something we thought we already knew about President Obama: the man is cool. A few hours before the operation, he’d been able to stand up at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner and make cheerful, relaxed quips about his Republican opponents, including a dig at Tim “Hosni” Pawlenty.
As it turns out, Obama’s speech writers originally wanted Pawlenty’s middle name to be “Bin Laden.” But the president nixed the joke, a decision that puzzled everyone, including his former advisor David Axelrod — until the news broke the next evening. In this conversation with Time magazine’s Joe Klein, Axelrod recalls those hours before the Correspondents’ Dinner and the death of Bin Laden.
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In a visit to Pakistan today to reset strained U.S.-Pakistani relations in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death, Secretary of State Hillary Clintonreiterated that the U.S. has no evidence that any senior Pakistani officials knew bin Laden was hiding in the country. But, according a New York Times report this morning,U.S. officials have uncovered evidence that bin Laden considered cutting a deal with those very Pakistani officials shortly before Navy SEALs killed him.
Messages between the al-Qaeda leader and his top operations chief—seized from bin Laden’s Abbotobad compound—discuss a deal in which al-Qaeda would cease attacks in Pakistan if Pakistani authorities protected bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda leaders, though U.S. officials stress there’s no indication that bin Laden’s aides brought the idea to Pakistani military or intelligence operatives
Two suicide bombers attacked recruits at a paramilitary training center in northwest Pakistan on Friday, killing 80 people and wounding 120 more in what a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban called “the first revenge of Osama’s martyrdom,” according to AFP. The spokesman, who claimed responsibility for the attack, warned of future attacks in Afghanistan and in Pakistan against Americans, and told the AP that the Taliban was also punishing the Pakistani army for failing to “protect its land” during the bin Laden raid—a criticism that has become quite popular in Pakistan these days. Today’s bombing in Pakistan’s Charsadda district near Peshawar, the AP notes, is the first major militant attack in Pakistan since bin Laden’s death and the deadliest this year.
Read more at The Atlantic Wire
Bin Laden, the strategist The Associated Press reports that bin Laden was highly knowledgeable of U.S. counterterrorist efforts and “schooled his followers in working around them.” He also set the strategic agenda for Al Qaeda, encouraging militants to strike beyond New York, hitting small U.S. cities and Los Angeles and attacking trains as well as planes.
Bin Laden, the editor-in-chief Bin Laden even took time to criticize Al Qaeda’s supposed English-language magazine, Inspire, which at one point “discussed using a tractor or farm vehice in an attack outfitted with blades or swords as a fearsome killing machine.” To bin Laden (and most thinking people, you’d assume) the ideas idiotic, reports ProPublica’s Sebastian Rotella. “Bin Laden said this is something he did not endorse. He seems taken aback. He complains that this tactical proposal promotes indiscriminate slaughter. He says he rejects this and it is not something that reflects what Al Qaeda does.”
Read more at The Atlantic Wire
— In an interview with The Atlantic Wire, Sen. James Inhofe describes the postmorten photographs of Osama bin Laden.
U.S. Senator James Inhofe will be the first member of Congress to take up the CIA’s offer to view the postmortem photographs of Osama bin Laden at a Northern Virginia facility. Inhofe’s visit is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. today. In the past week, the Oklahoma Republican has argued that the Obama administration should release the photos to the public to combat conspiracy theories regarding the death of bin Laden.
Inhofe’s spokesman Jared Young told The Atlantic Wire, “Senator Inhofe views it as part of his responsibility as a member of the armed services committee to be able to validate the photo and hopefully dispel conspiracy theorists who don’t believe bin Laden is dead.” Young added, “He may change his mind after he views them but he thinks the administration should make the photos public.”
Read more at The Atlantic Wire
President Obama’s decision to withhold the visual evidence of Osama bin Laden’s death has created a fundamental disagreement between the White House and one of the largest journalism organizations in the world. “This information is important for the historical record,” said Michael Oreskes, senior managing editor at The Associated Press. “That’s our view.”
Last Monday, the AP filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the photographic and video evidence taken during the raid on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The organization’s FOIA request included a reminder of the president’s campaign pledge and a plea to be more transparent than his predecessor. ”The Obama White House ‘pledged to be the most transparent government in U.S. history,” wrote the AP, “and to comply much more closely with the Freedom of Information Act than the Bush administration did.’”
Two days later, the president told 60 Minutes he would not release any of the footage related to the raid, including video of bin Laden’s deep sea burial and photographs of his slain corpse. Though Oreskes voices his disagreement diplomatically, there’s no way around it: The AP believes the president is wrong to maintain exclusive ownership of the evidence. ”We’re asking to see it,” said Oreskes in an interview with The Atlantic Wire. “It’s about us saying we would like to make our own news judgements about news worthy material.”
Read the full interview at The Atlantic Wire