Monday, May 2, 2011

What We Can Conclude After OBL's Demise

Steve Coll's Notes on the Death of Osama bin Laden is the best commentary I've seen today on what we can reasonably conclude from yesterday's kinetic military action.

First, the Pakistani state - some of it - was sheltering bin Laden at worst, or keeping him under house arrest at best. And the same probably applies for Mullah Omar, leader of the Taliban, and Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda's second in command.

Second, Pakistan believes it can get away with that and still retain U.S. support and assistance, and they are probably right.

Third, Al Qaeda now faces a succession crisis. Since al-Zawahiri seems temperamentally unsuited for the top leadership type, unless a capable #3 emerges who can take bin Laden's place, the organization will likely splinter into regional fragments.

Abbottabad is essentially a military-cantonment city in Pakistan, in the hills to the north of the capital of Islamabad, in an area where much of the land is controlled or owned by the Pakistani Army and retired Army officers ... The maps I looked at had sections of land nearby marked off as “restricted areas,” indicating that they were under military control. It stretches credulity to think that a mansion of that scale could have been built and occupied by bin Laden for six years without its coming to the attention of anyone in the Pakistani Army.

The initial circumstantial evidence suggests that the opposite is more likely—that bin Laden was effectively being housed under Pakistani state control.

- snip --

Pakistan’s military and intelligence service takes risks that others would not dare take because Pakistan’s generals believe that their nuclear deterrent keeps them safe from regime change of the sort under way in Libya, and because they have discovered over the years that the rest of the world sees them as too big to fail. Unfortunately, they probably are correct in their analysis; some countries, like some investment banks, do pose systemic risks so great that they are too big to fail, and Pakistan is currently the A.I.G. of nation-states. But that should not stop American prosecutors from following the law here as they would whenever any mass killer’s hideout is discovered.

Of course, Mullah Omar and Al Qaeda’s No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, probably also enjoy refuge in Pakistan. The location of Mullah Omar, in particular, is believed by American officials to be well known to some Pakistani military and intelligence officers; Omar, too, they believe, is effectively under Pakistani state control.

-- snip --

On the constructive side: The loss of a symbolic, semi-charismatic leader whose own survival burnished his legend is significant. Also, Al Qaeda has never had a leadership succession test. Now it faces one. The organization was founded more than twenty years ago, in the summer of 1988, and at the initial sessions bin Laden was appointed amir and Ayman al-Zawahiri deputy amir. It is remarkable that, for all the No. 3s who have been killed, and for all the ways in which it has been degraded since September 11th, Al Qaeda had retained the same two leaders, continuously, for so long. Zawahiri is famously disputatious and tone-deaf. His relatively recent online “chat” taking questions about Al Qaeda’s violence did not go well. Bin Laden was a gentle and strong communicator, if somewhat incoherent in his thinking. Zawahiri is dogmatic and argumentative, and has a history of alienating colleagues.

More to come.


Anonymous said...

Good Post TSB: Because of the endless parade of liberals (including J.Kerry)
mouthing the exact same talking points. (I remember your praise of his trip to Pakistan) I'm suspicious that Ray Davis was instrumental in nailing down UBL's whereabouts??? All that "quipment" in his car could have been to establish the necessary details like no internet, no phone??

Anonymous said...

Details with photos,diagrams and a play by play on Drudge. gwb

Anonymous said...

TSB: White House modifies Osama bin Laden account tories/0511/54162.html
It looks like we may need a congressional investigation to find out who was lying the most in the rush to dramatize the raid. My bet is on DOD! (They have the best track record on false claims. ie Pat Tillman) But the media star of this is still Geraldo! gwb

Anonymous said...

TSB: We'll wait while you get the details together. Someone seems to have spilled them all over the place.

Anonymous said... guest: Zarar Ahmed, 12, points at Bin Laden's high-security compound which he lives near to and claims to have visited several times

TSB:Seems like all the neighbor kids knew Bin Laden cause they went to school with his kids! gwb

TSB said...

My guess about that compound is that the Pakistanis were holding OBL there under house arrest. They weren't going to expel him, or turn him in to us, but they put him on ice in a place where they could restrict his movements and communications (no internet), while letting him control his own internal security.

The same thing the Colombians did to Pablo Escobar - had him fund his own custom-built house where he could do a 'prison' sentence under light supervision.