What was it like watching a team of Navy Seals take out the world’s No. 1 terrorist? ‘It was the longest 40 minutes of my life,’ President Obama told Brian Williams in an exclusive interview. Watch as Obama, Hillary Clinton and Mike Mullen recount watching the riveting mission.
But bomb blasts in Kabul follow his trip.
President Obama made a surprise trip to Afghanistan Tuesday night, vowing to “finish the job” and saying U.S. troops will not stay “a single day longer” than necessary. Marking the one-year anniversary of the high-stakes raid that killed al Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden, Obama said, “This time of war began in Afghanistan, and this is where it will end.” Obama and Karzai signed the “strategic partnership agreement” to outline the cooperation between the two countries after NATO’s withdrawal of forces in 2014. After Obama’s exit, at least three explosions rocked Kabul, and the Taliban immediately claimed responsibility.
Bush campaign adviser Mark McKinnon on why the GOP’s complaints only help the Democrats.
So President Obama is launching his reelection campaign and happens to mention one of the greatest foreign-policy achievements of our time: the killing of Osama bin Laden.
C'mon people, it would have been absurd not to mention it.
Just as it would have been absurd for the Bush campaign not to mention 9/11 in our 2004 reelection launch. In fact, all we did in our ads was say we faced some unexpected challenges and showed some images of 9/11. And we were crucified by the Democrats.
How dare we exploit 9/11 for political purposes, brayed the Democrats, John Kerry, and the firefighter unions eight years ago.
And now, how dare Obama exploit OBL for political purposes, say Republicans today.
It's history folks. It happened. We can't and shouldn't ignore these seminal events of our times for some ridiculous PC notion that these are sensitive issues and if we talk about them we are exploiting them or offending brave citizens or soldiers who lost their lives.
Now I personally don't think Obama has to hit things very directly on the nose regarding bin Laden. I always prefer a subtle glove rather than a high-fived slap. But, Obama has every right to tout this significant accomplishment. And if he wants to suggest Mitt Romney might have done otherwise, that's his right as well. That's what campaigns are all about.
Worried al Qaeda was “weak.”
In the months before his death, Osama bin Laden planned assassinations of President Obama, General Petraeus, and other U.S. officials, while also considering changing the name of al Qaeda due to “disaster after disaster." John Brennan, President Obama’s top counterterrorism official, said the documents found in the raid that killed bin Laden showed that he felt the terrorism network had become a “shadow” of its former self and its core leadership would soon be “no longer relevant.” Meanwhile, Obama and Mitt Romney traded barbs on Obama’s ordering of the high-stakes, late-night raid on bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound, which Romney said “even Jimmy Carter” would have ordered. Obama cited a 2007 speech in which Romney said, “It’s not worth moving heaven and earth, spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person.”
Republicans love to act like tough guys. Yet it’s the Democrat in the White House who got bin Laden—and the GOP that’s throwing a temper tantrum about a modest Obama ad.
It couldn’t be more hilarious, watching these Republicans rend their garments over the Obama administration’s bin Laden video. Imaging the paroxysms we’d have been forced to endure if George W. Bush had iced the dreaded one is all we need to do to understand how hypocritical it all is. But what obviously gets under Republicans’ skin is not the fact of this video’s existence, but the fact that Barack Obama got him and they didn’t, which destroys their assumption of the past decade that they are “the 9/11 party.” And more than that—and this is the real story here—it’s the fact that the Democrats don’t appear to be afraid of the Republicans anymore. That, to Republicans, is what’s truly unacceptable.
Have you watched the video? Well, click the link and do so. It’s hardly capital P political. It’s about how the president is all alone when making such decisions. Bill Clinton provides the narration—a gentlemanly gesture, I thought, since Obama hasn’t always ladled great praise in Bill’s direction. It’s a clever validation, so that it’s not Obama himself or some hired-hand voice-over bragging on the exploit, but one of the few living other men who has occupied that office.
The allegedly controversial turn is taken when the video starts to mount the argument that if Mitt Romney had been president, bin Laden would still be busy keeping those four wives satisfied. The 2007 Romney quote invoked in the ad went: “It’s not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person.” It’s supposed to be outrageous, or something, that the video used only that quote and makes no reference to some clarifying remarks Romney made later that year.
So this is the new standard for political ads—that if a politician said something about Topic X and an ad quotes it, that’s no longer good enough? Suddenly it’s only acceptable if the ad makers scour the record for everything the candidate said and then take care to ensure that the full measure of the candidate’s views is fairly represented? Okay. Let’s hold Romney’s campaign and American Crossroads and all the rest of them to that standard this fall. By the way, what Romney said one month after the initial comments was this: “We’ll move everything to get him. But I don’t want to buy into the Democratic pitch that this is all about one person ... It’s more than Osama bin Laden. But he is going to pay, and he will die.” To the folks at Fox News the Obama ad was under some mystical obligation to note this instance of ass-covering.
Newsweek's Daniel Klaidman reminds us that al-Qaeda's mastermind, Ayman al-Zawahiri is still very much alive.
Which Romney undertook, incidentally, after he was attacked by John McCain for not being sufficiently hawkish on the bin Laden question. Today, of course, McCain is up there excoriating the president who was sufficiently hawkish on bin Laden. Allegedly it’s hypocritical of Obama because Hillary Clinton ran an ad that mentioned bin Laden in 2008, and the Obama people complained about it. OK, McCain has a point there. It was stupid of the Obama people to whine about that in 2008. If McCain had stopped there, fine. But he also said, “Shame on Barack Obama for diminishing the memory of September 11.”
Oh, please. See, it works like this. The rule is: Only Republicans are allowed to even mention September 11. Because it happened on their watch, you see. In a rational world, that would count as a demerit—and indeed might have led to George W. Bush’s removal from office, or at least to far more strenuous demands that he offer proof that he took that August 6 PDB seriously. But in the “Americaland” parallel-universe amusement-park ride the GOP took us all on over the past decade, it actually registers a plus, because it gives them the right to speak about how it felt to be in charge on that awful day, how hideously unknowable the burden was, etc. They own, so they believe, the stories, the images, the pain. So they’re allowed to speak for America on the subject in a way they believe Democrats are not.
The president’s new ad trumpeting bin Laden’s killing may well politicize national security, as the GOP complains. But Obama’s just taking a page from a playbook the Republicans have trusted since 2001, says Michelle Cottle.
Osama bin Laden has been dead a year, Team Obama has made a campaign ad touting the president’s ballsiness in ordering the kill, and suddenly everyone from John McCain to Arianna Huffington is going batshit.
It was hardly surprising that members of Team Romney found the ad objectionable, as it blatantly suggests the governor would have responded differently. Romney’s foreign-policy advisers have proclaimed themselves “saddened” by the president’s “unbecoming” conduct, while longtime GOP über-operative Ed Gillespie asserts that the ad proves Obama is “one of the most divisive presidents in American history.”
McCain, meanwhile, slipped on his serious statesman’s jacket to scold, “Shame on Barack Obama for diminishing the memory of September 11th and the killing of Osama bin Laden by turning it into a cheap political attack ad.”
The most flamboyant shot, however, came from the left, as Huffington denounced the ad as “one of the most despicable things you can do.”
Really, Arianna? One of the most despicable? That’s a mighty bold statement, and it suggests a severe lack of imagination. But if that’s how you really feel, allow me to retort.
Boo hoo hoo.
Obama has made an attack ad. A tough one. One that suggests Governor Romney doesn’t have the right stuff to cope with the very dangerous world we live in. An attack that arguably—gasp!—politicizes national security.
A year after the Abbottabad raid, al Qaeda's mastermind is still loose. Bin Laden's death has only made the hunt harder.
A year after the death of Osama bin Laden, American special operators are training their sights on his successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the former Egyptian Army surgeon widely regarded as the mastermind of major attacks against Americans and other targets. And forces loyal to Zawahiri, who affectionately call him “Glasses” because of his trademark oversize spectacles, are determined to guard their leader.
Zawahiri’s safety was the main subject of conversation when several senior al Qaeda operatives and a handful of other militants sat down for a dinner meeting in North Waziristan six months ago, according to a well-placed Taliban source. The host of the dinner, from a prominent Taliban family, had a sheep slaughtered in honor of his Arab guests. Over a meal of mutton kebabs and pilau, the men expressed concerns about Zawahiri’s security in light of bin Laden’s bloody end. They said Zawahiri’s handlers and tribal hosts had strongly advised him “to move to a new place,” to stop using electronic devices, to limit his exposure by issuing fewer audio and video propaganda tapes, and to exercise extreme caution in dealing with couriers.
“We are hoping he can avoid being captured by the U.S. for at least 10 more years,” the source says. One of the al Qaeda operatives at the dinner, which took place outside the town of Miran Shah, asked if the Afghan Taliban would consider harboring Zawahiri if he decided to hide in Afghanistan. According to the Taliban source, the Afghan was noncommittal.
Taliban and al Qaeda operatives who have met Zawahiri say he is highly respected in militant circles, both as a thinker and a doer. He’s not nearly as charismatic as bin Laden, but in some ways, he’s more important. Bin Laden was the face of terror, but Zawahiri is the mind: an important ideologue as well as an operational commander.
He’s under increasing pressure now to carry out a fresh act of headline-grabbing mayhem. “Zawahiri needs to terrorize in order to really cement his position as bin Laden’s long-term successor,” says Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official who has advised the Obama administration on counterterror policy. Yet the new al Qaeda chief faces a dilemma: the more involved he gets in planning and propaganda, the more exposed he becomes. And he can’t conduct terror operations if he’s dead, much less serve as a symbol of al Qaeda resilience.
American intelligence on him is sketchy; the last time U.S. agents are known to have had actionable intelligence on his whereabouts was in January 2006, when they learned that he had been invited to an Islamic holiday dinner in a mud-walled compound on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. A Predator drone fired a salvo of Hellfire missiles at the compound, killing some 18 people, including several al Qaeda militants. But Zawahiri was not among them.
Newsweek's Daniel Klaidman talks about al-Zawahiri, and the current capabilities of al Qaeda
“There are indicators that some elements of the Pakistani government may be protecting Zawahiri,” says a U.S. intel official who did not want to be named discussing sensitive information. “We have reports that he’s been hanging out in Karachi for brief periods, and we just don’t think he’s going to be doing that without a lot of people knowing about it.”
A new book chronicles the 10-year search for the world’s most-wanted terrorist. Ex–CIA official Bruce Riedel on the myths of Osama—and what the Pakistanis don’t know.
A year after the commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, we have a terrific new book on the decade-long search for high-value target No. 1. Peter Bergen’s Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad is the first in-depth study of how the CIA found the emir of al Qaeda and how the SEALs brought justice to him.
It is very appropriate that Bergen is the author of this tale. He was one of the very first journalists and analysts in America to recognize the importance of al Qaeda and bin Laden. He traveled to Afghanistan to interview the Saudi terrorist, and he has written a series of excellent books on the man and his organization. For this book he got unique access to bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad from the Pakistani authorities before they demolished it and to their interrogations of bin Laden’s wives. He also interviewed many of the Americans involved in the search for bin Laden, including myself, over the last decade, and especially those involved in the successful manhunt in 2010 and 2011.
The result is a fast-paced narrative that takes you into the search for the most-wanted man in human history. Bergen reveals that the key to the outcome was not some swashbuckling James Bond spy, but rather the meticulous hard work of professional intelligence analysts. Catching HVT1 was more the work of Hercule Poirot than Bond. And many of the best analysts were women who used their “little gray cells” brilliantly to put together a plan to find bin Laden by studying his work habits, family, and those he trusted most. It was not without danger. Al Qaeda was determined to fight back, and in December 2009 a Jordanian triple agent used the bait of the whereabouts of bin Laden’s deputy and heir, Ayman al-Zawahiri, to get access to a CIA base in Afghanistan and blow up seven CIA officers.
Two fascinating portraits also emerge in Manhunt. The first is about the final years of bin Laden himself. He spent almost six years in his last hideout in self-enforced austere house arrest, surrounded by his wives and children. As Bergen notes, it was “a comfortable retirement.” He was not a recluse, however, as the documents and electronic chips recovered by the SEALs from his lair revealed. Bin Laden to his dying day was the CEO of the world’s first truly global terror empire. He was communicating via his courier with his lieutenants and supporters across the Islamic world, constantly pressing them for more terror against America. He was making personnel decisions, even micromanaging his subordinates’ lives. As the drones began killing more and more of his best operatives, bin Laden became depressed and even delusional to a degree. The Arab revolutions in Egypt, Yemen, and Syria made his message of terror more and more irrelevant in the final months of his life.
The other portrait is of his nemesis, Barack Hussein Obama, who had campaigned on the promise that if elected, he would not hesitate to take unilateral action inside Pakistan to kill bin Laden if he could find him. President Obama is a thoughtful and deliberative decision maker who values debate and data. I learned that in chairing for him the strategic review of American policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan at the start of his administration, which set as its goal defeating al Qaeda. Obama is also a risk taker and gambler. The odds that bin Laden was in the hideout were only 50-50, and the risk of encountering a Pakistani Army patrol in Abbottabad was considerable. Bergen reveals that two of Obama’s top three aides, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, advised against sending in the commandos; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was for the operation. She had criticized Obama’s promise to go after bin Laden into Pakistan during the campaign. But when the moment of truth came, she told the president to forget about Pakistani sensitivities and strike. The result was a devastating blow to al Qaeda that it is still struggling to recover from.
There are unresolved mysteries about the manhunt and the hideout. Bergen gives little attention to the question of how bin Laden operated from deep inside Pakistani territory for so long without the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI, discovering his presence. He was communicating with other terrorists in Pakistan who have intimate connections with the ISI, like the leadership of Lashkar-e-Taiba, which carried out the Mumbai massacre in 2008 just after Obama’s election. When one of his wives was released from Iranian detention in 2010, she seemed to have had no problem finding her way to Abbottabad.
Bergen reveals the debate within the Obama team about whether to tell the ISI about the hideout or to give the Pakistani government warning that the commandos were coming. In the end, Obama decided not to do either. It was an extraordinary decision. By 2011 Obama and his predecessor George W. Bush had given Pakistan almost $25 billion in military and economic aid precisely to fight al Qaeda. But when the decisive moment came, the president rightly decided he could not trust the Pakistanis with the vital information about bin Laden.
Veteran journalist David Corn details the tense White House deliberations leading up to the raid on May 1, 2011.
During the 2008 campaign, when Barack Obama bluntly vowed “we will kill bin Laden,” he did not know that one of the most consequential moments of his presidency would be deciding whether to make good on that vow. In fact, his fierce campaign pledge to resort to unilateral action to get Osama bin Laden, should he be hiding in Pakistan, was slammed by both Hillary Clinton and John McCain as reckless talk. But Obama took the promise seriously. Five months into his presidency, he sent a memo to Leon Panetta, then the new CIA chief, signaling that he considered finding bin Laden a high-priority task. He requested a detailed operation plan for locating and “bringing to justice” the mass-murderer. Yet for a year, Panetta did not have much to report to Obama on this front. Then in the summer of 2010, the agency informed Obama there was a lead: bin Laden might be in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, about 35 miles north of Islamabad. He could be within Obama’s reach.
For months, however, there was not much for the president to do, as the spies gathered more intelligence. In mid-February 2011, Obama and the small number of White House aides tracking the CIA’s effort concluded that the intelligence was strong enough to start thinking about a mission to nab or kill bin Laden. Panetta brought Vice Admiral William McRaven, the commander of the military’s Joint Special Operations Command, into the picture and asked him to start cooking up options for an assault. Now the bin Laden mission had become a matter of presidential decision-making.
In mid-March 2011, Obama convened a series of National Security Council meetings on a possible bin Laden operation. At the first, on March 14, Panetta presented Obama with the three basic course of action—COAs, in the parlance of military planners—that McRaven and a small team had devised: a massive bombing strike in which B-2 stealth bombers would drop dozens of 2,000-pound GPS-guided bombs and obliterate the compound; a helicopter raid mounted by U.S. commandos; or a joint assault with Pakistani forces, who would be informed of the operation only shortly before its launch. According to a participant, the president had “a visceral reaction” against the bombing strike because collateral damage would likely extend beyond the compound into the surrounding neighborhood. The CIA had already determined that the compound contained a number of women and children.
Another drawback of such an attack was that it would leave behind only rubble—and the remains of 20 or so people mixed in with the concrete and steel. In all that wreckage, could they find a piece of bin Laden—hair or flesh—for DNA analysis?
“The question was, would you accrue the strategic benefits of getting bin Laden if you couldn’t prove it?” Ben Rhodes, a national security aide, recalled.
“And what could be worse,” Nicholas Rasmussen, the White House senior director for counterterrorism, later noted, “than OBL survives and comes out and says, ‘The United States failed to kill me’?”
Obama all but scratched this option off the list. He did ask the military to consider a surgical strike targeting the specific person living within the compound whom intelligence analysts suspected was the al Qaeda leader. The analysts had dubbed him “the pacer,” for he would stride around the compound as if for exercise.
A year after Osama bin Laden’s death, al Qaeda is straining to keep his successor safe—even as pressure mounts to pull off a fresh act of terror.
Since the killing of Osama bin Laden a year ago, al Qaeda and Taliban militants have been especially concerned for the safety of his successor, former Egyptian army surgeon Ayman al-Zawahiri, Newsweek reports in this week’s issue.
Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in an undated photo first published in November 2001. (Getty Images)
Zawahiri’s safety was the main subject of conversation when several senior Qaeda operatives and a handful of other militants sat down for a dinner meeting in North Waziristan six months ago, according to a well-placed Taliban source. Over a meal of mutton kebab, the men discussed how Zawahiri’s handlers and tribal hosts had strongly advised him “to move to a new place,” to stop using electronic devices, to limit his exposure by issuing fewer audio and video propaganda tapes, and to exercise extreme caution in dealing with couriers.
“We are hoping he can avoid being captured by the U.S. for at least 10 more years,” the Taliban source says.
The Newsweek article, by Sami Yousafzai, Ron Moreau, and Daniel Klaidman, reports that one of the Qaeda operatives at the dinner, which took place outside the town of Miran Shah in northwest Pakistan, asked if the Afghan Taliban would consider harboring Zawahiri if he decided to hide in Afghanistan. According to the Taliban source, the Afghan was non-committal.
Zawahiri is under increasing pressure now to carry out a fresh act of headline-grabbing terror. He “needs to terrorize in order to really cement his position as bin Laden’s long-term successor,” says Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official who has advised the Obama administration. Yet the new Qaeda chief faces a dilemma: the more involved he gets in planning and propaganda, the more exposed he becomes.
American special operators and CIA agents face their own dilemma: Pakistan’s political and military leaders, furious that Washington kept them in the dark about the bin Laden raid and other missions, have forbidden the United States from conducting drone strikes in their territory. American forces are respecting Pakistani wishes—for now—in an effort to “lower the temperature,” says one senior administration official. Eventually, American officials tell Newsweek, offensive drone operations will restart with or without Pakistan’s approval.
Distrust runs deep between the two countries. Newsweek has learned that shortly after the Navy SEALs stormed bin Laden’s hideout, federal prosecutors were laying the groundwork to issue sealed indictments against members of the Pakistani government or anyone else they believed had aided bin Laden. The charge, according to two law-enforcement sources, would have been “harboring a fugitive terrorist.”
On 'humanitarian grounds.'
Osama bin Laden’s three widows were among the members of his family deported to Saudi Arabia on Friday—and Saudis said Saturday they would allow them to say on “humanitarian grounds.” The three women and their two daughters served 45 days under house arrest for impersonation and illegally entering and residing in Pakistan. In a deposition given by one of the wives, Amal Ahmed Abdul Fateh, the woman provides details of the 10 years bin Laden spent on the run after the September 11 attacks, saying in her deposition that Pakistanis arranged “everything” while they were in hiding.
Obama ad asks.
Perhaps President Obama's favorite accomplishment to tout is the death of Osama bin Laden. His reelection campaign's latest ad turns the positive talking point on Mitt Romney, suggesting the Republican candidate wouldn't have pulled the trigger, so to speak, on the assassination mission. "Which path would Mitt Romney have taken" asks the video, which features Bill Clinton noting what the president had to consider before deciding to send the Navy SEALs on that mission. "He took the harder and more honorable path and the one that produced in my opinion the best result," Clinton says.
With Osama bin Laden’s widows, children, and grandchildren expected to be flown to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, Islamabad hopes this is the end of the embarrassing Abbottabad affair.
Pakistan hopes to conclude its almost yearlong effort to clean up after Abbottabad by deporting the late al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden’s three widows and 11 children and grandchildren to Saudi Arabia next Wednesday.
akistani police officers secure the area around the house where Osama bin Laden's family are being detained in Islamabad, Pakistan on Monday, April 2, 2012. (B.K. Bangash / AP Photo)
“A special charter flight will take all of bin Laden’s family—three wives, two daughters ages 17 and 21, and nine minors—to Saudi Arabia on April 18,” Muhammad Aamir Khalil told The Daily Beast. “All documentation work has been completed and everything will be cleared by Pakistani authorities on Monday.”
Pakistani lawyer Khalil represented bin Laden’s Yemeni widow, 30-year-old Amal Ahmad Abdul Fateh, two Saudi widows, and the governments of Yemen and Saudi Arabia in the deportation proceedings. “Everyone is going straight to Saudi Arabia,” says Khalil.
Bin Laden’s country of birth had been hesitant to accept the family members but yielded to pressure from Islamabad, which is struggling to live down the embarrassment of May 2, when U.S. Navy SEALs found and killed bin Laden in the garrison town of Abbottabad.
After hours on Feb. 25, Pakistani authorities began demolishing bin Laden’s final hideout, erasing that last reminder of what the U.S.—and Pakistanis themselves—saw either as the security establishment’s monumental incompetence in tracking down the terror kingpin, or, less charitably, its complicity in shielding him from the world.
Abbottabad had further strained the always-tenuous relations between the army and the elected government. Last year, as the army and its Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) pressed the government over a sensational, anti-army confidential memorandum sent to the then head of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, allegedly at the behest of Husain Haqqani, the country’s former envoy to Washington, the government hit back. Speaking in Parliament, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani asked rhetorically, “We want to know who gave Osama bin Laden a visa?”
With elections coming up and the government locked in several intense battles with the Supreme Court, it can do without the distraction of also taking on the army. Islamabad hopes the expulsion of bin Laden’s family will cap the Abbottabad affair and assist in detoxifying civil-military relations. The interior ministry spoke about the deportation months ago for the same effect: bin Laden and his family were in Pakistan illegally without the knowledge of either the government or the Army.
New details about bin Laden’s life on the run don’t answer a central question since 9/11—who in Pakistan is with us, and who is against us, writes former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley.
As it turns out, Osama bin Laden did not spend nine years on the run moving from one cave to another. He spent them moving from one maternity ward to another. It doesn’t take a village to raise a child; it takes a terrorist network.
Bin Laden’s youngest wife, Amal Ahmad Abdul Fateh, giving birth to four children in Pakistan between 2003 and 2008 is but one of the intriguing details emerging about his years on the run between the escape from Tora Bora in 2001 and his demise in Abbottabad in 2011. They are based on documents seized in last year’s raid that killed bin Laden and the Pakistani investigation since then.
A decade ago, President Bush said 9/11 changed everything. If a group like al Qaeda could hijack four airplanes and fly them into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, they could do anything, including acquire a nuclear weapon. The country was impelled to act, not based on what was known, but what was feared.
Ten years later, the portrait of bin Laden that emerges from Abbottabad is strikingly different: the caliph in waiting was not larger than life but a quite ordinary figure still full of grand plans despite operational capabilities reduced by outside pressure and internal squabbles. He was also a leader who recognized that his erstwhile subjects were less and less interested in what he was selling: an al Qaeda brand tarnished by excessive violence against Muslims and badly in need of a makeover. And he was a fading media star who bemoaned even the demise of the animating political slogan “war on terror,” which the Obama administration consciously dropped in 2009.
The Obama administration, which has promised to declassify and release documents obtained during the raid, is meanwhile leaking this description of a diminished, even vain bin Laden as part of an ongoing counterterrorism communication effort to damage al Qaeda’s standing in the Islamic world.
As intriguing and valuable as this information is, it doesn’t necessarily provide a compelling political argument to sustain long-term political, financial, and military support for Afghanistan and Pakistan. This year alone, funding existing operations in Afghanistan will cost $111 billion. Meanwhile, Pakistan receives an estimated $4.5 billion a year in civilian and military aid. Some military assistance was suspended last year in the aftermath of the bin Laden raid.
As budgets get squeezed, these will be ripe targets for cuts. Add mistrust on all sides, accentuated by the actions and reactions to the friendly-fire deaths of Pakistani soldiers in November, Quran burning, and the murder of Afghan civilians, and the future of these relationships remain in doubt.
Statements by the terror leader’s widow suggest members of Pakistan’s national security apparatus helped bin Laden stay hidden after 2001—but do not prove former President Musharraf’s complicity, sources tell Eli Lake.
New evidence that Osama bin Laden moved around Pakistan from safe house to safe house after 2001 is another indication of a shadow state within the country’s military and intelligence service—but not proof that President Asif Ali Zardari or his predecessor, Pervez Musharraf, were aware of bin Laden’s whereabouts, current and former U.S. counterterrorism officials say.
Testimony by the Qaeda leader’s youngest widow, Amal Ahmad Abdul Fateh, describing bin Laden’s movements in Pakistan before he settled in the walled compound in Abbottabad in mid-2005 is “very plausible,” said one U.S. official, who requested anonymity. The new details of bin Laden’s life on the run, released by the Pakistani authorities last week, suggests elements of Pakistan’s national security state were helping him stay hidden from authorities for longer than previously believed, current and former U.S. officials told The Daily Beast. Nonetheless, one U.S. official added, “There’s still no solid evidence Musharraf’s government knew where [bin Laden] was hiding.”
According to Fateh, in 2003 bin Laden and his family moved to Haripur, a small town close to Islamabad, and lived there until moving to Abbottabad. In the period when bin Laden was living just outside Pakistan’s capital, Musharraf was waging a war of his own against al Qaeda. With Pakistani help, the CIA was able to net Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, al Qaeda’s military planner and self-proclaimed mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In this same period, Pakistan’s military waged a sometimes brutal campaign in the Northwest Frontier provinces of Pakistan against al Qaeda and affiliated groups.
Two current U.S. intelligence officials familiar with the material taken from the bin Laden compound during the Navy SEAL assault last May told The Daily Beast that none of the papers, disc drives, or hard drives suggest that Musharraf, who was president from 2001 to 2008, or other senior Pakistani political leaders were aware of bin Laden’s location. Some of those papers have been made public, but many remain classified.
MBC / APTN / AP Photos
“There were plenty of people who disagreed with Musharraf’s decision to align with the United States after 9/11 against al Qaeda. In essence they expressed their displeasure by helping America’s most hated enemy,” said Bruce Hoffman, director of the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University. But Hoffman also said he suspects that bin Laden’s relationship with Pakistani military and state was a “very tightly held secret, perhaps even from his immediate family.”
“This may not have been in any of the papers or documents seized at Abbottabad because we are finding out just now about this from his wives,” Hoffman added. “His survival depended on protecting those agents of state.”
In this period, Pakistan was officially allied with the United States against al Qaeda, making it perilous for some agents to help bin Laden. “It would be startling if bin Laden’s ownership of these houses was known to the highest levels of government, but it is certainly plausible that some elements or persons in the government may have known about this,” said Ken Wainstein, a former assistant attorney general for national security between 2006 and 2008 and now a partner at Cadwalader, Wickersham, and Taft.
Veteran journalist David Corn details the tense White House deliberations leading up to the raid on May 1, 2011.
Just in time for Christmas, Benjamin Schor rates several competing versions of the Osama bin Laden raid.
Republicans love to act like tough guys. So why are they having a temper tantrum about a modest Obama ad?
A new book chronicles the 10-year search for the world’s most-wanted. Ex–CIA official Bruce Riedel on what the Pakistanis don’t know.