- With a bluntness that many predictably applauded, President
Obama reported to White House guests Monday night that Osama Bin Laden
was captured and then killed Sunday by US forces in a US raid on a hideaway
in northern Pakistan.
- In what sounded like a made for television raid of the
A Team, Obama reported that elements of Navy Seal Team Six had raided Bin
Laden's luxury compound, cornered the villain and his close followers and
killed him after capture. White House "clarification" on Tuesday
made it amply clear: Ben Laden was unarmed. In short, Bin Laden was
executed. The President then went on to report that Bin Laden was carried
on board a US warship, prepared for burial in line with Islamic customs
and then buried at sea .
- With that candid account, the President presented a vexing
problem: Who other than his self-confessed executioners can say that it
was actually Bin Laden and that he is dead? It is worth noting here that
nearly a decade ago Bin Laden's close followers in the Afghan/Pakistan
frontier region reported that he had died from natural causes and had been
buried in line with Islamic customs. Location of his grave was not reported.
And no detached witnesses have stepped forward to verify his passing.
- For better or worse we are again denied the benefit of
detached witnesses, or careful identification and forensics, and it is
doubtful that members of the strike force that conducted this raid had
ever met Bin Laden. Since his leadership team reportedly cultivated a number
of look alikes, the evidentiary situation is disquieting. Will the real
Bin Laden please rise up!
- However, let us take it as given that the death of a
"Bin Laden" has been confirmed. Now the harder question on the
table is: What difference does that make in the global terrorism environment?
In dealing with this question, one must differentiate the reactions of
victim families or of harassed governments from the realities of the global
- Although it is far from proven that Bin Laden had anything
to do with the 9-11 attacks, and CIA sources have been candid about that
uncertainty, capture and killing of the accused leading perpetrator is
a perceived matter of justice. Surviving victims and families could all
take comfort from Bin Laden's demise, because it represents a significant
element of closure.
- What his death means for global terrorism or for many
national efforts to combat it is a very different story. To get at this
situation, we need to examine how important Bin Laden actually was to the
patterns of global terrorism. That may be widely debated, but in fact it
is not too complicated.
- Just what was Bin Laden's role? He invented little of
the world's political dissidence. In this regard, he was principally an
exploiter. He espoused some basic causes that were actually very well established
before he ever entered the picture. The centerpiece of his vexation was
the ongoing Israeli effort to steal Palestine from its people. In this
he joined the sizeable number of groups in the Middle East that clustered
around the Israel/Palestine conflict. By the time al Qaida arrived
on the scene, however, the majority of Middle Eastern terrorist groups
that had operated in and around the Middle East in the 1980s and later
had concentrated their activities in the Israel/Palestine boundary regions
between Israeli territory, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
- However, the bulk of international terrorism as regularly
reported by the State Department and the George W Bush team formed National
Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) was not centered in the Palestine conflict.
In 2009 there were roughly 11,000 terrorist attacks in 84 countries, involving
over 48,000 casualties, mostly wounded and mostly civilians. The bulk of
the attacks (over 60%) occurred in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. There
were a reported 850 attacks in Africa, but 700 of them were in Somalia
and the Central African Republic. In short, while attacks were widely distributed,
the great majority of attacks were concentrated in five or six trouble
spots. The bulk of them did not involve al Qaida, even though the NCTC
reports it was the third ranking culprit in Iraq.
- A perhaps predictable fuzziness surrounds the terrorism
data in popular thought. While there are more than 40 international terrorist
groups on the US State Department list, few of them make the news and they
are seldom if ever mentioned in US media. Al Qaida has become the designated
culprit, and the typical newsworthiness of any references to al Qaida or
Osama Bin Laden means most people think of them when terrorism is mentioned.
This in turn provides a convenient peg for the US War on Terrorism.
- We need to be reminded therefore that the majority of
attacks occur in countries where US combat troops are stationed. The odds
are that most, if not all, the "terrorists" in those countries
see themselves as insurgents seeking to rid their countries of the American
occupiers. That being the case, the War on Terrorism is simply self-perpetuating.
In other words, Osama Bin Laden's reputation has been on a decade-long
free ride. His troops have been responsible for only a small share of the
- Then what change should we expect with his passing?
The worst prospect, as some have already noted, may be retaliation. No
matter who was actually killed in the raid on that compound, the US averred
fact of it is that US forces deliberately assassinated Bin Laden. In extremist
and perhaps not so extremist minds of the world's Muslims, that assault
will contribute to Bin Laden's martyrdom, and recruitment to the al Qaida
cause will be enhanced because of it. It is prudent to expect an increase
in assassination attempts on American officials wherever they are.
- The writer is the author of the recently published work,
A World Less Safe, now available on Amazon, and he is a regular columnist
on rense.com. He is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US
Department of State whose overseas service included tours in Egypt, India,
Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Brazil. His immediate pre-retirement positions
were as Chairman of the Department of International Studies of the National
War College and as Deputy Director of the State Office of Counter Terrorism
and Emergency Planning. He will welcome comment at <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>email@example.com