US forces killed Osama bin Laden in a shootout at a mansion north of Pakistan’s capital Sunday night, culminating an aggressive use of American intelligence assets inside the country.
President Obama, in an address Sunday night, said he gave the go-ahead for the operation last week after months of intelligence work. On Sunday, a US team attacked Mr. bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, killed him, and took the body.
Mr. Obama made no mention of a “joint operation” with Pakistan, indicating that the US intelligence community possibly kept its cards very close and its putative Pakistani allies in the dark.
While Pakistani intelligence has worked with the US over the years, the Obama administration has strained relations by increasingly ordering independent action within Pakistan. As more information comes out, that strategy may well be vindicated and will certainly shape Pakistani reaction to the events.
“It’s a huge embarrassment for the government of Pakistan,” says Rifaat Hussein, a military strategist at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad. “This is something that [was ordered] about a week ago and the government was ether not informed or kept mum about it.”
Drones angered Pakistanis
The Obama administration has aggressively ratcheted up the use of drones over Pakistan’s tribal areas, an issue that has angered some Pakistanis. The administration has also expanded the CIA’s boots on the ground there. Obama briefly addressed Pakistani sensitivity to such a major solo operation on their soil.
“Over the years I’ve repeatedly made clear that we would take action in Pakistan if we knew where bin Laden was. That is what we’ve done. But it’s important to note that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding,” said Obama in his address.
Dr. Hussein says that Obama had to make this rhetorical gesture. But the extent of the Pakistani intelligence community’s help is something that will need further investigation as the story unfolds, he says.
The answer to that may shape future US cooperation with Pakistan, a country that has emerged as a base for international terrorists and Afghan insurgents, and wields influence over the efforts to find peace in Afghanistan. This operation comes at the official start of the Taliban’s spring offensive in Afghanistan.
Other key questions in the coming days: * What impact will this have on the Afghan war? Even though bin Laden will be replaced within Al Qaeda, does his killing represent a big enough “win” for the US to begin scaling back its involvement in Afghanistan more rapidly? * And how was bin Laden able to stay hidden – apparently for at least months — in a populated part of Pakistan where the government is fully in control?
Abbottabad is a city located just a few hours’ drive north of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad along the Karakoram Highway. The road links Pakistan’s major population centers with the sparsely populated northern areas of the country and the Chinese border.
The city is located far from the tribal areas on the Afghan border where Al Qaeda militants and other international terrorists are believed to be hiding in caves and mountains. The area, however, briefly saw an influx of Pakistani Taliban fighters after the Pakistani military flushed them out of Swat in 2009.