Monday, May 2, 2011
Bin Laden may be dead, but al-Qaida will live on
In the decade it has taken the U.S. to find and kill Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida has become the kind of organization that cannot be put down by the death of one man.
Barack Obama's U.S. administration on Sunday met the commitment made by former President George Bush to find and kill Osama bin Laden. This is a colossal intelligence and operational success that isn't dampened by the long time it took to achieve it - ten years of intensive pursuit in Afghanistan and Pakistan alone.
But that period was used well by bin Laden and his aides to construct al-Qaida in such a way that would allow it never to be wholly dependent on one leader or one squad chief.
As such, Iraq's al-Qaida is able to operate independently, akin to similar groups in Yemen and North Africa. Each region is headed by a regional chief, who doesn’t always require bin Laden's authorization to operate, and each regional chief usually appoints several deputies who could replace him if or when he was arrested or killed.
Bin Laden has been relying on radical groups already active in Arab and Muslim countries, "commissioning" them to execute attacks at his will, and leaving them to operate independently in their local areas for the rest of the time.
As a result, al-Qaida can continue to operate despite the fact that bin Laden has been killed; indeed, intelligence agencies expect the various branches to attempt tp prove their power by avenging his death, in particular in attacks against American targets.
Alongside the real fear of an al-Qaida retaliation, Washington needs to review its intelligence cooperation with Pakistan. It turns out that bin Laden had chosen quite a prominent location close to the Pakistani capital for his hideout, as opposed to previous estimates that he had been hiding in Afghanistan.
Did Pakistani intelligence officials know about this? Was bin Laden supported by radical elements in the Pakistani military, intelligence, or government? All of those questions will have to be readdressed, especially now, as the battle against extremists in Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan continues.
On a sidenote, fear of al-Qaida's operations has lessened in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with U.S. military intelligence estimates a few months back stating that only a few hundred operatives remained each both country.
But the war in the region has changed its goal: Instead of a war against al-Qaida it has morphed into a war against the Taliban, which had become a much stronger terrorist force than al-Qaida.