It only took nine years, but Osama bin Laden has finally been killed by US military forces.
The mastermind of the deadliest-ever terrorist attacks against the United States, the planet’s most wanted man, evaded the most powerful military force the world has ever known for nearly a decade. There were some close calls in those early years of the War on Terror, but the onetime Saudi playboy- turned global jihadist always managed to stay one step ahead of his often clueless pursuers.
According to the Washington Post, Bin Laden, who was 54 years old, was killed in a surgical raid by US Navy SEALS on a fortified mansion compound in Abottadad, Pakistan, which lies 72 miles (116 km) north of the capital city of Islamabad. The raid occurred around 1 a.m. Monday morning, local time. A 40 minute firefight ensued when bin Laden (who had been identified on sight) and his guards resisted. Bin Laden was shot in the head. Democracy Now! reports that one of bin Laden’s sons was killed along with two other men and one woman. According to the Washington Post, Pakistani forces arrested four of bin Laden’s children and two of his wives.
No Americans were hurt in the raid, although one helicopter broke down and was intentionally destroyed with explosives.
Bin Laden’s body was whisked away from Pakistan aboard a US helicopter and flown to Afghanistan, where it was positively identified by matching DNA with that of family members. Then the body was buried at sea from the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson following traditional Islamic rites performed by a Muslim US Navy seaman that lasted for 50 minutes and included a ritual washing of the corpse. US military officials told the Post that bin Laden was buried in this manner in order to avoid creating a grave site that might become a monumental shrine for bin Laden’s devotees.
President Barack Obama addressed the nation and the world late Sunday night, calling bin Laden’s death the “a testament to the greatness of our country,” and the “most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al-Qaeda.” The President also provided some details of how the United States was finally able to catch up with the elusive terrorist. Obama said he “was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden” last August. According to the information, which the President called “far from certain,” bin Laden was hiding out in a compound “deep in Pakistan.”
“Finally, last week I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action and authorized an operation to get bin Laden and bring him to justice,” Obama said. “Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.”
Speaking to those who lost family members on 9/11, Obama said “Justice has been done.”
The news of bin Laden’s death sparked wild celebrations outside the White House in Washington, D.C. and in New York’s Times Square and Ground Zero, site of the 9/11 terror attacks planned, funded and executed by bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network that killed nearly 3,000 Americans. Crowds waved American flags, sang the national anthem and chanted “USA! USA!”
On a more sobering note, US government facilities around the world have been placed on heightened alert and the State Department has issued a global travel advisory for US citizens warning of “enhanced potential for anti-American violence given recent counter-terrorism activity in Pakistan.” Leon Panetta, the CIA director slated to become America’s next Secretary of Defense, said terrorists “almost certainly will attempt to avenge” bin Laden’s death.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vowed that the War on Terror would continue. The US “will continue to take the fight to al-Qaeda and its Taliban allies,” she said. “Even as we mark this milestone, we should not forget that the battle to stop al-Qaeda and its syndicate of terror will not end with the death of bin Laden. Our message to the Taliban remains the same, but today it may have even greater resonance. You cannot wait us out. You cannot defeat us. But you can make the choice to abandon al-Qaeda and participate in a peaceful political process.”
The fact that bin Laden was found hiding in a densely populated urban area so close to the capital city, and not in a remote tribal or wilderness area raises questions about the degree of Pakistan’s cooperation with the United States in its War on Terror. Pakistan claims, however, that the raid against bin Laden was a joint effort between the two countries, carried out “primarily” by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s equivalent of the CIA. US officials continue to say that the operation was conducted with the utmost of secrecy and that Pakistan knew nothing about the actual raid.
The killing also inevitably led to a discussion of the political impact on President Obama. “With the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attack approaching this year, bin Laden’s assassination could benefit Obama domestically even more than the capture of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein helped propel then-President George W. Bush to re-election,” the Washington Post opined.
Speaking of George W. Bush, he congratulated Obama and US military and intelligence personnel who “devoted their lives to this mission… They have our everlasting gratitude.” “This momentous achievement marks a victory for America, for people who seek peace around the world, and for all those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001,” he said. “The fight against terror goes on, but tonight America has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will be done.”