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

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    Factions Shift as Civilians Die in Syrian War

    Scenario likely only to further confuse military situation on ground and potentially worsen humanitarian crisis that already has grown to epic proportions

    Presidential Hopefuls Woo Minorities, Evangelicals

    Four GOP candidates to speak at forum at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina

    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.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.