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

UN: 1 Million Somalis at Risk of Hunger

Group warns region is in dire need of humanitarian aid, with at least 200,000 children under age of five acutely malnourished as drought hits southern, central part of nation More

Human Rights Groups Allege Supression of Freedoms in Thailand

Thailand’s military, police have suppressed release of independent report assessing human rights in kingdom during first 100 days of latest coup More

Jennifer Lawrence Contacts FBI After Nude Photos Hacked

'Silver Linings Playbook' actress' photos were posted on image-sharing forum 4chan; Federal Bureau of Investigations is looking into matter More

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.
Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forcesi
X
September 02, 2014 12:58 PM
A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Internet, Technology Offer New Tools for Journalists

The Internet and rapidly evolving technology is quickly changing how people receive news and how journalists deliver it. There are now more ways to tell a story than ever before. One school in Los Angeles is teaching the next generation of journalists with the help of a state-of-the-art newsroom. Elizabeth Lee has this report.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.

AppleAndroid