News / Asia

    Bin Laden’s Operational Role Debated

    Osama bin Laden is shown watching himself on television in this video image released by the U.S. Pentagon, May 7, 2011
    Osama bin Laden is shown watching himself on television in this video image released by the U.S. Pentagon, May 7, 2011

    It is widely agreed that the plot to mount terrorist attacks in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001 sprung from the mind of Osama bin Laden. But less certain is his role after U.S. forces routed bin Laden and his followers from their sanctuaries in Afghanistan later that year. In the intervening years since 9-11, U.S. and Western intelligence agencies took the view that al-Qaida worldwide had become less centralized and more of a “franchise” operation. In this view, bin Laden was more of an inspirational than operational figure.

    But some of the material gathered in the raid on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, seems, at least at first glance, to challenge that view. Reports have surfaced of plots to blow up rail lines and exhortations by bin Laden to his followers to aggressively attack American targets. Some American officials were quoted as calling the compound a “command and control center”.

    Footage shot by VOA Urdu service of the scene outside the compound where bin Laden was killed.

    Re-evaluation

    Shaun Gregory, director of the Pakistan Security Research Unit at the University of Bradford in England, says there is a re-evaluation going on inside Western intelligence agencies of what they know - or thought they knew - about bin Laden and al-Qaida.

    "If I’ve heard one pretty consistent thing from colleagues on both sides of the Atlantic it is the creeping evidence that he was rather more, if you like, in the loop than people had suspected for many years," said Gregory.

    But, he adds, the original view that bin Laden was not directly managing terrorist operations seems to be reinforced.   

    "But then I’m now hearing a back current saying that he may have, if you like, been in greater contact with people, but he’s not a strategic mastermind, he’s not a military planner in that sense, and maybe his role is a bit closer in a sense to [Mullah] Omar’s role with respect to the Afghan Taliban," Gregory said.

    Not a hands-on leader

    Analysts say closer evaluation of the material that has surfaced so far in fact confirms the long-held view that bin Laden was in fact not a hands-on operational leader. Paul Pillar, a longtime CIA veteran and former National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia, says bin Laden had plenty of ideas but they did not reach the plotting stage.

    "If you look really closely at what has come out so far, I don’t think that it changes the overall perception of the role that bin Laden had been playing over the last few years - a perception shared by most experts - and that would be one in which he was not out of the operational business entirely by any means, but his principal role was one of publicist, ideologist, source of ideology, symbol," Pillar said.

    A soldier's memorial and photos are seen during a Remembrance Ceremony commemorating the one-year anniversary of the worst mass shooting on a U.S. military base, where 13 people were killed and dozens wounded, Friday, Nov. 5, 2010, in Fort Hood. (AP Photo
    A soldier's memorial and photos are seen during a Remembrance Ceremony commemorating the one-year anniversary of the worst mass shooting on a U.S. military base, where 13 people were killed and dozens wounded, Friday, Nov. 5, 2010, in Fort Hood. (AP Photo

    Analysts say counterterrorism operations had squeezed al-Qaida by arresting or killing mid-level leaders and monitoring their communications. Moreover, Pillar points out, many of the post-9-11 terrorist incidents or plots, such as the Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad, and the Fort Hood shooter, Major Nidal Hassan, were plotted outside of what intelligence officers have come to call “Al-Qaida Central.”

    "It’s not just a theory but a fact that’s been accumulating over the last few years that most of the initiative and the direction and the planning and the training have taken place away from the al-Qaida Central and on the periphery," Pillar said.

    Ayman al-Zawahri: Osama's successor?

    The leading candidate to replace bin Laden is his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri. But analysts say he is expected to face opposition. Al-Qaida, with its franchises in Yemen and elsewhere, is not a monolithic organization. Jeremy Binnie, a terrorism analyst with IHS Jane’s, says that without bin Laden, al-Qaida franchises may increasingly focus on local goals than the global goals espoused by their late leader.

    "There are these people with a different vision of al-Qaida," said Binnie. "Zawahri is going to have to try to step in there. His ability to fill bin Laden’s shoes as sort of a figure that everyone defers to and refers to as the ‘great sheik’ and has that kind of gravitas [eminence] - it’s going to be very difficult to replace him [bin Laden] in that respect.

    As Paul Pillar points out, the death of bin Laden does bring a kind of catharsis to Americans for the 9-11 attacks, but it is far from being a death blow to al-Qaida or jihadist terrorism.

    You May Like

    Video Pop Icon Prince Quietly Helped Afghan Orphans for Years

    He sent thousands of dollars to help an aid group rebuild a training center for orphan boy and girl scouts in Kabul, but kept his involvement secret

    Mali, a Way Station for Syrians Headed to Europe

    Another door may be closing for Syrians fleeing the conflict in their country, this time in Africa

    Britain’s Muslims See London Mayor Race as Victory

    Mere running of 45-year-old former government minister and son of Pakistani immigrants Sadiq Khan seen by many as turning point

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Donations Rescue Afghan Parents, Children From Forced Labori
    X
    May 05, 2016 6:44 PM
    A Facebook campaign organized by a VOA radio host raised 150,000 Afghan rupees to rescue a family from forced labor at a brick kiln in Nangarhar province – the result of the father’s unpaid debt. Video by a VOA reporter in Jalalabad went viral this week and triggered the Facebook campaign.
    Video

    Video Donations Rescue Afghan Parents, Children From Forced Labor

    A Facebook campaign organized by a VOA radio host raised 150,000 Afghan rupees to rescue a family from forced labor at a brick kiln in Nangarhar province – the result of the father’s unpaid debt. Video by a VOA reporter in Jalalabad went viral this week and triggered the Facebook campaign.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Troops Recount Firefight Which Killed US Navy SEAL

    A U.S. Navy SEAL killed Tuesday, when Islamic State fighters punched through Kurdish lines in northern Iraq, was part of a quick reaction force sent to extract other U.S. troops trapped by the surprise offensive. VOA's Kawa Omar spoke with Kurdish troops in the town of Telskuf -- the scene of what U.S. officials called a "dynamic firefight."
    Video

    Video British Lawmakers Warn EU Exit Talks Could Last A Decade

    Leaving the European Union would mean difficult negotiations that could take years to complete, according to a bipartisan group of British lawmakers. While the group did not recommend a vote either way, the lawmakers noted trade deals between the EU and non-EU states take between four and nine years on average. Henry Ridgwell reports on the mounting debate over whether Britain should stay or exit the EU as the June vote approaches.
    Video

    Video NASA Astronauts Train for Commercial Space Flights

    Since the last Shuttle flight in 2011, the United States has been relying on Russian rockets to launch fresh crews to the International Space Station. But that may change in the next few years. NASA and several private space companies are developing advanced capsules capable of taking humans into low orbit and beyond. As VOA's George Putic reports, astronauts are already training for commercial spacecraft in flight simulators.
    Video

    Video US Worried Political Chaos in Iraq Will Hurt IS Fight

    The White House is expressing concern about rising political chaos in Iraq and the impact it could have on the fight against the Islamic State. The U.S. says Iraq needs a stable, central government to help push back the group. But some say Baghdad may not have a unified government any time soon. VOA's White House correspondent Mary Alice Salinas reports.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora