Osama bin Laden

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Osama bin Laden (Osama bin Mohammed bin Awadh bin Laden; also occasionally Usama Bin Ladin, which is closer to the Arabic سامة بن محمد بن عوض بن لادن), March 10, 1957 – May 2, 2011, was one of the founders of the terrorist organization al-Qaeda and its best-known spokesman. He was from a rich and prominent family in Saudi Arabia. He began his activism in the Afghanistan War (1978–1992), initially mainly as a financial sponsor for the Afghan Arabs. Later he moved more into military and terrorist activity. He was killed by United States forces in a nighttime attack on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

From the time of the 9/11 attack, which crashed hijacked aircraft into US buildings and was carried out by al-Qaeda and approved by bin Laden (though he had no direct role), he had been a major focus of US intelligence gathering and a target for their military. Throughout that period there had been occasional reports that he was dead, even though messages purportedly from him continued to surface. Finally, almost ten years after the attack, he was located and killed.

For many years bin Laden was reported to be involved in various incidents across the world. This involvement, however, could have distinctly different meanings and/or levels. Was an incident directly ordered by him, or merely financed? Was it carried out by "al-Qaeda central", or by "franchise" groups allied with al-Qaeda, such as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or by local cells of individuals that were either simply motivated by al-Qaeda principles or that had, perhaps, obtained seed money but were under no operational direction? There is also a growing phenomenon of self-radicalized individuals who carry out operations.

Michael Scheuer, a former senior Central Intelligence Agency officer whose responsibilities included tracking bin Laden, as well as recommending that he be captured or killed, also observed that understanding him is best illustrated by comparison to seminal Western figures, especially the abolitionist John Brown, but also John Bunyan, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Paine.

According to his closest Muslim associates and many of the Westerners who have interviewed him, Osama bin Laden appears to be a genuinely pious Muslim; a devoted family man; a talented, focused and patient insurgent commander; a frank and eloquent speaker; a successful businessman; and an individual of conviction, intellectual honesty, compassion, humility and physical bravery. It is ironic that this man today leads an ideological and military force with more lethal potential than any other nonstate threat faced by the United States.[1]

Theory and authority

Among his basic premises is that the world is divided into Muslim and not-Muslim. Within the Muslim world, he argued that national boundaries were irrelevant; there should be one great Muslim state. The boundaries, in his world-view, are imposed by what he called the "Zionist-Crusader Alliance". He had envisioned a broad international Muslim force since the mid-1980s, as he brought the Afghan Arabs to Afghanistan.[2] One of his major steps beyond Afghanistan, in 1996, was to try to unify two Egyptian groups, Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) and Jamaat al-Islamiyya (Islamic Group). At first, bin Laden tried to get them to cooperate on intra-Egyptian matters, but this approach failed with the accidental death of Abu Ubaydah, his military commander who was proposing an Egyptian-centered "Islamic Army". In a revised approach, bin Laden said the objective should be limited to the United States alone, not only in the Middle East but worldwide, to force the U.S. and its allies to reconsider its policy toward Islamic groups. He believed that the Jewish lobby controlled the United States, so defeating the United States policies toward the region would stop a long-term strategy of humiliating Muslim peoples and looting their lands.[3]

Also in 1996, it was against the United States that he personally issued, in the form of a fatwa, a declaration of war against the United States. It was 12 pages long, and one its key demands was getting all non-Muslims out of Saudi Arabia.[4] According to Abdel Bari Atwan, who quoted Saudi opposition activist Saad al-Faqih, this was a central religious view. It changed through his interactions with Ayman al-Zawahiri, leading to the more radical 1998 fatwa.

Bin Laden had long criticized the legitimacy of the Saudi government, as compromising with Islamic law; his friend Khaled al Fawwaz, the spokesman for a Saudi opposition group founded by bin Laden, the Advice and Reformation Committee, told Peter Bergen, of CNN, he accuses them of apostasy, an extremely serious charge in Sharia.[5] One of those compromises was allowing non-Muslims into the country. In a 1997 interview with Bergen of CNN, bin Laden said

The country of Two Holy Places (Saudi Arabia) has in our religion a peculiarity of its own over the other Muslim countries. In our religion, it is not permissible for any non-Muslim to stay in our country. Therefore even though American civilians are not targeted in our plan, they must leave. We do not guarantee their safety."[5]

He has issued fatwas on the legitimacy of his aims. In some cases, he has had these confirmed by clerics, but in other cases, they are based on his moral authority. The fatwa is a key part of legitimizing acts of jihad, and, traditionally, it is issued by Islamic scholars, recognized in the ulema. Some of the ulema accept, however, that a pious Muslim can, in cases of necessity, issue a fatwa. This is not at all a given, and a July 2005 conference of 200 of the ulema, hosted by King Abdullah of Jordan, established "Subjective and objective preconditions were established for the issuing of fatwas, hereafter condemning illegitimate edicts in the name of Islam or Allah." This is a possible ground to challenge some of bin Laden's authority.[6]

Early life

Osama bin Laden's father, Mohammed, had multiple wives, and he grew up with dozens of half-siblings. It was a wealthy family; his father had founded an extremely successful construction business. In a 1999 interview with al-Jazeera, while he spoke highly of his father, he did not mention his mother, who was Syrian.[7]

The young Osama was described as being religiously conservative, even when growing up. He and his siblings were exposed to the West. They went on group tours of Europe. Osama bin Laden worked in the family construction business as a young adult.

Khalid Batarfi, who was his neighbor when bin Laden was 16, said "he was a natural leader. He just sets an example and expects you to follow, and sometimes you follow even if you are not 100 percent convinced." Batarfi said that his mother was not as religiously conservative as her son.[8]

He studied at King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Among his teachers were Abdullah Azzam and Mohammed Qutb, the brother of Sayyid Qutb. Some reports indicate he first went to Afghanistan shortly after the 1979 invasion, while others indicate he went there after he graduated in 1981. His degree was in economics and public administration.[9]

First trip to Afghanistan

See also: Afghanistan War (1978-1992)

Afghanistan was invaded by the Soviet Union in 1979; the domestic resistance, while split among tribal groups, was generically called the mudjahideen. Muslim volunteers that joined them were generically called Afghan Arabs, even though they might be from Chechniya or Indonesia. Bin Laden, however, was among the first, and a true Arab.

Edward Giardet, a reporter, met bin Laden outside Jalalabad in February 1989. Up to that point, Giardet, who had been covering the war, had not encountered many Arabs. Bin Laden, who had been congenial at first, told Giardet to leave or he would kill him, refusing to shake his hand, which was quite contrary to Afghan culture.[10]

As part of its Cold War strategy, the United States of America, primarily through the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), aided the Afghans opposing the Soviets. Their aid, however, was channeled through Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, acting as a CIA proxy. Pakistan was intensely opposed to direct U.S. operations in Afghanistan.

It has been suggested that he was recruited by the CIA,[11] but there is little evidence that the CIA directly funded the young bin Laden, or, at first, was even aware of his existence other than as a wealthy Saudi who "supported the same Afghan rebels that the Agency armed in their fight against the Soviet aggressors."[12] Those that make the suggestion tend to regard the CIA as an all-powerful manipulator of the world, where those that argue against the position come from both the positions that the CIA is incompetent, or that there was very little direct contact between the CIA and the Afghan resistance.

Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet said that the CIA first became aware of bin Laden individually when he was in Sudan in the early 1990s. By 1993, they saw him as a major financial backer of terror, but not involved operationally.[13]


He moved from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan in 1986, and was active in the Muslim Brotherhood there.[14] He was closely allied with Abdullah Azzam and the Services Office, which provided critical external support to the mudjahideen.

Until 1982, however, he remained based in Saudi Arabia, visiting Pakistan and Afghanistan to assess needs. After that point, however, he began spending more and more time in the area, doing heavy construction. He became an expert in tunneling and fortification to resist aerial bombing, and then, in 1984, created the first Arab combat engineer unit in Afghanistan. They directly supported Harqqani's troops in defending against Soviet Spetsnaz.[15] Pakistani LTG Hamid Gul, who commanded ISI, described him as "he was more engineer than soldier, and was an expert at building tunnels, Gen Gul said. The tunnels, which were burrowed horizontally into the sides of mountains, were used as arms depots by the mojahedeen."[16]

Combat role

In 1986, he formed a small fighting organization, Masada al Ansar (Lion's Den of the Supporters). While all agreed this Arab unit was ferociously brave, neither it nor bin Laden had strong military skills. Bin Laden spoke of martyrdom being extremely desirable, a cultural difference from the Afghans, ferocious fighters more concerned with providing their enemies with the opportunity for martyrdom.[17]

A first attempt to form an Arab fighting unit, at Jaji, Afghanistan, failed in May; the Afghans asked them to leave. Azzam also opposed bin Laden's plan; Azzam was not a Pan-Arab nationalist but a Muslim unifier, and wanted the Arabs dispersed among the Afghan units.

Bin Laden returned and set up a permanent Arab camp at Jaji in December, in the territory controlled by Abdul Rasul Sayyaf. While a permanent camp did not fit the guerrilla model, but bin Laden was thinking of forming a future jihadist unit that could fight anywhere. Azzam sent Jamal Khalifa to persuade him to reconsider. Khalifa reminded him "We came here to help the Afghans, not to form our own party! Besides, you're not a military man, so why are you here?" Bin Laden argued back, "This is jihad! This is the way we want to go to heaven!" Khalifa, after telling him that God would make him responsible for every drop of his men's blood, left angrily; they were never to speak again.[18]

Services Office

The Services Office, with a U.S. branch called al-Khifa, was an organization that specifically supported operations against the Soviets in Afghanistan. According to the 9/11 attack Commission, it probably received indirect U.S. funding through the ISI. The U.S. also tolerated al-Khifa for some time. It was the focus of an argument whether to finish the situation in Afghanistan, or to spread jihad to at least the "near enemy" of ostensibly Muslim states, such as Egypt, that did not rule by proper Islamic law.

Azzam and bin Laden had been extremely close, but their differing interpretations of jihad caused an irrevocable break.[19] Azzam was assassinated in November 1989; there are many conjectures but no consensus on who did it. Bin Laden took over the Services Office. There are links, although not definitive ones, between either MAK and al-Khifa and terrorist acts before the formal founding of al-Qaeda, and before bin Laden's fatwa declaring war against the U.S. al-Qaeda's actions often do not follow a strict organization table; there may well have been informal support or actual support under a cover identity.

By the summer of 1989, Azzam became concerned with the approach of bin Laden and Zawahiri, who wanted to expand the fight. Azzam's concern was finishing Afghanistan, and then dealing slowly with other Muslim states. Zawahiri wanted to act against Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. Bin Laden thought worldwide. Others were concerned with Pakistan. Zawahiri told his son-in-law, Abdullah Anas, that he was worried about bin Laden if he stayed with the radicals: "This heaven-sent man, like an angel; I am worried about his future if he stays with these people."[20]


According to Bergen, the first written mention of "al-Qaeda", in the sense of an organization rather than a physical base, was in an article by Abdullah Azzam, in April 1988.

Every principle needs a vanguard to carry it forward and, while forcing its way into society, puts up with heavy tasks and enormous sacrifices. There is no ideology, neither earthly nor heavenly, that does not require such a vanguard that gives everything it possesses in order to achieve victory for this ideology. It carries the flag all along the sheer endless and difficult path until it reaches its destination. This vanguard constitutes the solid base (al-Qaeda al Sulbah) for the expected society.[21]

Al-Qaeda proper was created in 1989, organized by Abu Ayoub al-Iraqi and bin Laden. Volunteers gave an oath of bayat to bin Laden. Their motivation was to carry on after the Soviets left.[22] Some reports put its creation in 1988; there are also reports of terrorist acts where the jihadists, outside Afghanistan, were in contact with the Services Office. Besides bin Laden and al-Zawahiri, others have been associated with its formation, such as Abu Ayoub al-Iraqi. Their immediate followers changed with time and war; Mohammed Atef was the first military commander, killed in action in 2001.

According to Richard Clarke, Prince Turki al-Faisal, head of Saudi intelligence, had "empowered" bin Laden to get Arab volunteers into Afghanistan.[23]

Return to Saudi Arabia

In 1990, he left Afghanistan, irritated with the infighting of the mujahideen, and went back into the family business. He founded an organizations to assist veterans returning from Afghanistan.[24] The Kingdom's response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, however, shocked him: he had offered his forces, but the King, instead, invited the Americans, deeply offending him. Prince Turki al-Faisal saw bin Laden's personality change as a result of that decision, "...from a calm, peaceful gentle man interested in helping Muslims to a person who believed he would be able to amass and command an army to liberate Kuwait. It revealed his arrogance and his haughtiness."[25]

He left Saudi Arabia in 1991, and first went to Afghanistan. It is not clear why he left in 1992 and went to Sudan; Scheuer speculates that it was a combination of being unable to resolve the factional fighting among the mujahideen, and the possibility that Saudi agents were trying to kill him.[26] The first problem would later be solved by the Taliban. Saudi plots continued to be mentioned while he was in Sudan, but the Saudi intelligence agency has not been known as skilled in covert operations and the credibility of this threat is open to discussion.

Stay in Sudan

He moved to Khartoum, Sudan, in 1992. While he was under the political patronage of Hassan al-Turabi, who was then the extremely powerful speaker of the Parliament, there were a number of reasons why Sudan was, for a time, a logical place for him.[27]

While there were many pressures that led him to leave in early 1996, it was probably his own decision. Scheuer thinks the major factors were:[28]

  1. Assassination attempts against him personally
  2. Pressure against al-Turabi's Islamic state; this was complex. The two were sympathetic about al-Turabi's goal and may have agreed this was the best thing for it, but al-Turabi may have been happy to see bin-Laden go and remove some pressures on him.

Business and infrastructure

He was also involved in a number of legitimate construction business projects. In particular, his company was involved in building the major "Revolutionary Highway" between the capital of Khartoum and Port Sudan on the Red Sea.[29]

International jihad

Both Turabi and bin Laden were more willing than other jihadists to form a broad front, obtaining cooperation from Sunnis and Shiites for attacks against the United States and Israel.[30]

Direct threats

In contrast, it was during this period when Takfir wal-Hijra considered bin Laden insufficiently Muslim and tried to kill him, according to Abu Jandal.[31]

Jamal al-Fadl testified that he had planned an assassination with Saudi intelligence, but never acted on it.[32] Enmity was certainly increasing between bin Laden and the House of Saud, from policy disagreements in 1990 to actual attacks several years later.


By 1995, several countries put pressure on Sudan to expel bin Laden. These included Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United States, according to the last U.S. Ambassador in Sudan to complete a full tour, Donald Petterson.[33] Petterson said the Sudanese claims that they offered to turn him over to Saudi Arabia in 1996, but the Saudis were concerned about retaliation if they took bin Laden. Petterson said that the U.S. pressure was not specific to bin Laden, but to a variety of terrorist groups then in Sudan.

Jamal al-Fadl was an aide in Sudan, but left over a financial dispute and walked in to American intelligence, where he became a key source of information on bin Laden and on al-Qaeda. It was from al-Fadl, roughly in 1996, that American intelligence learned that bin Laden was more than a financier. The U.S., concerned with security, closed the Khartoum embassy in 1996, but, according to Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, that cut off a valuable source of information.[34]

According to Richard Clarke, the CIA was unable to devise a covert action to capture bin Laden. In 1996, he said, the military could not offer the White House a plan that did not have a serious chance of escalation. Clarke said a Special Forces colonel who worked with him was told, in 1998, that Fort Bragg did indeed have a plan, but was told, by the senior military, that the White House disapproved it. Clarke, however, said that President Clinton approved every covert action proposal given to him, and it was the senior military who opposed action.[35]

Return to Afghanistan

Bin Laden left Sudan in early 1996 and returned to Afghanistan, allying with several factions and even, to some extent, unifying. The first invitation probably came from , who invited him to return to Afghanistan, according to Michael Scheuer: "Khalis had an avuncular interest in bin Laden...Osama lost his father when he was young, and Khalis became a substitute father figure to him. As far as Khalis was concerned, he considered Osama the perfect Islamic youth."[36]

Subsequently, he put himself and his followers under the protection of the Taliban, led by Mullah Muhammad Omar, and provided them with major funding. In public, he called Mullah Omar :legitimate ruler of the state of Afghanistan...the pious caliphate will start from Afghanistan." While these statements were probably sincere, they also had the effect of invoking the Pashtunwali tradition of guest protection.

Osama bin Laden is credited with ordering the September 9, 2001, assassination of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance. Many believe this was in preparation to cripple Afghan opposition when the 9/11 attack, approved by bin Laden, took place two days later.

Osama bin Laden was also courted by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of the rival militia Hezb-i-Islam Gulbuddin, and invited him to return to the areas of Afghanistan under his control.

Targeting the United States

Al-Zawahiri said the 1996 demands were sufficiently reasonable that they would not provoke dramatic action by the U.S., or radicalize enough Muslims. He told bin Laden to make a short declaration of war against all Americans and Jews everywhere. Al-Faqih said that bin Laden did not see every American as his enemy, but Zawahiri responded, "This is not for the purpose of killing Americans. This is for the purpose of driving them crazy. They are cowboys and will react without thinking."[37]

In February 1998, bin Laden, along with al-Zawahiri of Egyptian Islamic Jihad and leaders of the Egyptian Islamic Group, Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan, and the Jihad Movement of Bangladesh, issued a fatwa[38] calling for jihad against "Crusaders and Jews", and, specifically, Americans.

The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies—civilians and military—is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque [Mecca] from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim.

This showed a new level of cooperation with al-Zawahiri. While the two had worked together in Sudan, al-Zawahiri initially went to Chechnya, attempting to start a branch of Islamic Jihad; he escaped custody and went to Afghanistan. The two complemented one another, bin Laden's inspirational abilities and al-Zawahiri's operational skills.[39]

By strengthening his ties with the Taliban, he also strengthened his ties with the Afghan ulema, and was able to get a May 1998 fatwa, from recognized religious authorities, supporting his declaration against Americans.

Early attempts at capture or killing

Photo of bin Laden on the FBI Top Ten List showing him as deceased.

By 1998, the United States had decided to capture or kill him but the practical problems were immense. The U.S. had no paramilitary personnel of its own in Afghanistan. Opinions differed if the Afghan allies were capable of attacking the known bases. Gary Schroen, the CIA station chief in Pakistan, had prepared a plan to capture bin Laden near Kandarhar, but Tenet cancelled the operation on May 29. The cancellation was not purely based on risk in Afghanistan, but in the need for cooperation with Pakistan. India had tested a nuclear weapon on May 11, and Pakistan was on a state of alert.[40]

One of the first major operations in the jihad was the August 7, 1998, bombing of the U.S. embassies, as well as civilian buildings, in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The short-term U.S. response was a cruise missile strike on August 20.[41] Counter-terrorism adviser Richard Clarke has described the decision-making around those missions. There was a slight chance the attack on a camp in Khost, Afghanistan might have threatened bin Laden personally, but the retaliation there and in Sudan was essentially economic and symbolic.

After the 9/11 attacks

The detailed 9/11 "Planes operation" was under the command of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), with the explicit approval of bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, and the al-Qaeda military commander, Mohammed Atef. KSM had collaborated with bin Laden in the past, but did not swear bayat until 1999 or 2000. He, like his nephew Ramzi Yousef, were examples of how bin Laden could be a coordinator and financier but not have operational control, as with their Operation BOJINKA.

Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden later took responsibility for the attacks,[42] although intelligence data provided to NATO already pointed to that conclusion. In 2001, the U.S. released a video of bin Laden, in an informal setting, speaking of prior knowledge of the attacks and how the destruction in New York had exceeded his "optimistic" expectations;[43] a translation and transcript was provided.[44]

Afghanistan War (2001-)

In response to the attacks of 9-11 the United States attacked Afghanistan and overthrew the Taliban government who considered bin Laden its guest.

Capturing or killing bin Laden was a high priority. It is generally accepted, however, that bin Laden escaped into Pakistan's border areas from the Battle of Tora Bora.

After the Taliban fall

It was known that he had been in the Tora Bora area, but he was never located precisely enough to be targeted. Confirming he had escaped, he issued a videotape, broadcast by al-Jazeera, on 27 December 2001. In the statement, he urged listeners to focus more on the ideology—the awakening of Muslims—than on him or his followers.[45] He emphasized that a Muslim "awakening" was the truly important goal.

Another tape was broadcast on 12 November 2002. He spoke, with approval, of an April 11, 2002 attack on a synagogue in Tunisia; a bombing in Bali in October, which killed 200 Australians and Britons; and a Chechen hostage incident in Moscow.[46]

A statement issued on 16 February 2003 cited the Sykes-Picot Agreement as comparable to the Crusades.[47]


For more information, see: Killing of Osama bin Laden.

On May 1, 2011, and throughout the night of May 2, the United States government launched a raid, authorized directly by President Obama, under operational control of the Central Intelligence Agency, and with the bulk of the military force from the Joint Special Operations Command, against a compound in Abbotabad, near Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. The assault force proper was made up of US Navy SEALs, in helicopters flown by the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. The compound, near the Pakistani military academy, had high walls, that was believed to be the hideout of bin Laden. Intelligence gathered before the raid proved to be correct.

Bin Laden was shot just above his left eye and part of his skull was blown off after he was shot by an unidentified US Navy SEAL. His body was flown to the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) located in the Arabian Sea. As part of the burial ritual, bin Laden was washed by a U.S. sailor of the Muslim faith, placed in a traditional white sheet, placed in a weighted bag and slipped into the sea around 2 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time May 2, 2011. Before his burial at sea religious remarks were made by a military officer aboard ship.[48]

After bin Laden's death was announced by President Barack Obama, most politicians, including Ban Ki-moon, United Nations Secretary General, reacted by showing relief and expressing the hope that after the loss of its head and symbolic figure al-Qaeda will be weakened, but they also warned that bin Laden's death may trigger terrorist activities to avenge him.

In just war theory, jus in bello describes the legality of actions taken once a war has begun. Of course, in this case, there is argument whether or not counter-terrorism against al-Qaeda, arguably a quasi-state without national territory, constitutes war. As with the WWII case of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, commander of the Combined Fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy, a combatant can be killed without an option to surrender. Yamamoto was in a military aircraft that was shot down.

Whether or not the killing met the definition of assassination, and whether or not it violated human rights or international law, remains controversial. Harold Koh, legal adviser to the U.S. Department of State, said “The use of lawful weapons systems — consistent with the applicable laws of war — for precision targeting of specific high-level belligerent leaders when acting in self-defense or during an armed conflict is not unlawful...And hence does not constitute ‘assassination.’”[49] Another aspect to be considered is military necessity, which the International Military Tribunal found compelling in the defense of Admiral Karl Doenitz, who argued that submarines cannot rescue survivors; his position was supported by U.S. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz.

Claudio Cordone, director of Amnesty International, said, “Osama Bin Laden took credit for and supported acts around the world which amounted to crimes against humanity. He also inspired others to commit grave human rights abuses. His death will put an end to his role in organizing or inspiring such criminal acts. We do not know the full circumstances of his killing and the others with him and we are looking into that.”[49]

The raid

For more information, see: Raid on Osama bin Laden.
Bin Laden compound.

Details of the force and tactics remain somewhat clouded. The raid was under the control of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), with military personnel from the Joint Special Operations Command of which the Navy SEALs are assigned. CIA control does present some possible problems under U.S. law.[50]

Aviation Week and Space Technology, gave a preliminary report that two H-60 and two H-47 U.S. Army special operations helicopters were seen flying over the compound. Specifically, the H-60s were the primary assault helicopters, and at least one was heavily modified with previously unknown stealth technology. "it appears to be a significantly modified version of a Sikorsky H-60 Black Hawk, although whether an MH-60K, L or M version is still unknown. The U.S. Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), the Night Stalkers, uses all three types of MH-60s."[51] There continues to be discussion over the exact helicopter types; it has also been mentioned that Air Force HH-60 PAVE HAWKs may have been used. One of the helicopters developed mechanical difficulties, and was later partially destroyed to protect its parts from being captured. Since the tail broke off on the far side of the outside wall, this attempt was only partially successful, and revealed unusual technology suggesting a stealth capability.

With 25 military personnel in the assault force, operating at a high altitude, the H-60's would have been operating near their maximum weight capability. Air temperature is also important, and Aviation Week quoted the chair of the House Armed Services Committee, Representative Buck McKeon "it was a miscalculation of temperature in and outside the compound. The Black Hawk ran into lift trouble due to a 15F difference inside the courtyard, 'They couldn’t hold the ­hover.'" The H-47 helicopters carried return fuel, backup assets, and recovered the personnel on the crashed H-60.

Reports indicate that US Navy SEALs were the direct action "shooter" element of the raid, which occurred outside of Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan.[52] During the raid three of the four compound walls were breached by US Navy SEALs as they entered the compound. Upon entry they killed two al-Qaeda couriers along with an unidentified woman who was caught in the gunfire.[53]. One of the couriers killed was named Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti who some sources state was killed in the compound along with the unidentified woman with him. The Navy SEALs then entered the first floor of the compound where they killed an unidentified man and bin Laden's son who was using a staircase. The SEALs entered bin Laden's bedroom where they found him along with one of his wives. His wife was shot in the leg after she tried to "rush" the SEALs during the incident. Bin Laden was shot in the chest and head by an unidentified US Navy SEAL.[54]

Effects on Pakistan

Pakistan, before this event, suffered from internal instability. The Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) are to some extent autonomous of the civilian government, which has its own political struggles. Assessment of Pakistani intentions always must consider its hostile relationship with India, and its desire to prevent Indian dominance of Afghanistan.

The Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, located along the Afghan border, were also largely autonomous. The ethnic group now called Pushtun dominate the border area; they are the "tribes" in the Tribal Areas and a majority in the adjacent Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. In Afghanistan, they are the largest single ethnic group, about 40% of the population overall and a majority in the South and East; they have historically been major players in the national government. They have a long history of warfare, all the way back to mauling Alexander the Great's armies. In the time of the British Raj, which called them Pathans, they were the main Afghan group in the disastrous First Anglo-Afghan War where a British army of 16,000 had only one survivor. They also provided many recruits for the British military, mainly in irregular cavalry units.

Pushtuns have been strongly influenced by the Deobandi movement in Islam, which began in the late 19th century. Taliban is overwhelminingly Pushtun and predominantly Deobandi.

While the public position has been that Pakistan partners with the U.S. in counterterrorism, the revelation that bin Laden had been there for several years, and the U.S. attack that crossed Pakistani borders without prior notice, clearly embarrassed the government.

Osama Bin Laden was killed deep inside Pakistan in an area that raises deep suspicion about what Pakistani intelligence, senior military officers and government officials did and did not know about his presence – and the presence of other major terrorists and extremist like Sheik Mullah Omar and the “Quetta Shura Taliban.” Pakistan pursues its own agenda in Afghanistan in ways that provide the equivalent of cross-border sanctuary for Taliban and Haqqani militants, and that prolong the fighting and cause serious US, ISAF, and Afghan casualties. This assessment shows, however, that al-Qaeda and the Taliban are only part of the story. There are many other movements and tensions that feed violence and extremism in Pakistan, and which grow out of a government that has consistently failed to meet the needs of Pakistan‟s people over a period of decades.[55]

Effects on radical movements

Bin Laden was the major public face of al-Qaeda. It is not at all clear who will replace him. While Ayman al-Zawahiri was clearly #2 in the organization and the "chief operating officer", Zawahiri is abrasive and not especially charismatic. Many analysts believe he is the most likely successor, but one may not be named to avoid fragmenting the movement.[56]

Bruce Hoffman, writing for the Council on Foreign Relations, argued that the idea of "leaderless jihad", advocated especially by Marc Sageman, had largely been shattered by discoveries that bin Laden had an operational role.[57] Others, such as Leah Farrell of The Economist, minimized his operational role, but still did believe that either his approval, or that of second-level central operational staff, were needed for operations outside their areas or using new techniques.[58]


Schisms may already have been present in al-Qaeda, and the issues of succession may aggravate them. Nevertheless, Reuters suggests that al-Qaeda's first priority is survival, with decisions to be made among approximately 20 second-level commanders.[59]


Juan Cole wrote,

A great deal of attention has been paid to who the next leader of al-Qaeda Central, its next public face, will be. Bin Laden’s killing, while certainly a major loss to al-Qaeda Central and its regional affiliates, does not sound the death knell of the transnational trend known as the jihadi-takfiri (those who view Muslim holy war (jihad) as a pillar of the faith and who lightly excommunicate (takfir) and attack other Muslims who disagree with them). While the importance of his killing should be recognized, it is critically important to not exaggerate its likely impact.[60]

Bin Laden was the major public face of al-Qaeda. It is not at all clear who will replace him. While Ayman al-Zawahiri was clearly #2 in the organization and the "chief operating officer", Zawahiri is abrasive and not especially charismatic. Many analysts believe he is the most likely successor, but one may not be named to avoid fragmenting the movement.[56] Of the "al-Qaeda central", Abu Yahya al-Libi is perhaps the next most influential.

For example, Nasser al-Wahishi‎, who, among others, the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, may consider himself more of a peer than a subordinate of bin Laden.[61] Other al-Qaeda affiliates, such as those in Algeria and Somalia, may be more concerned with local matters.

At least two U.S.-born individuals are rising in the movement: Anwar al-Awlaki, and, possibly, Adam Gadahn. They probably lack the stature to succeed bin Laden.[56]

Interactions with the Arab Spring

While claims have been made, with some justification, that al-Qaeda is less relevant in countries moving to democracy as part of the Arab Spring, it must be remembered that al-Qaeda influences more than the Arab world. This assumption "...ignores other regions of the Muslim world, such as South and Southwest Asia, where elements of al-Qaeda Central’s message continue to resonate with segments of the population."[60]


President Obama said that photos of bin Laden after he was shot would not be released. “That’s not who we are,” Obama added. “You know, we don’t trot out this stuff as trophies.” He said, “We don’t need to spike the football.” (A reference to a victory dance performed after a touchdown in American football.)[62] In an era of Photoshop, DNA evidence may be more credible to the public and less inflammatory.[63]

In the hours following the announcement of bin Laden's death, some US citizens celebrated outside the US White House[64][65] with chants of "USA, USA". In contrast to this reaction, the Vatican suggested that bin Laden's death was a cause for reflection, not rejoicing.[66] That reaction was expressed by many in the United States as well.[67]

"The fight against terror goes on, but tonight America has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will be done," said President George W. Bush after hearing about bin Laden's death.

Clinton and Bush reactions

President Obama contacted both Presidents Clinton and Bush to notify them of the raid and bin Laden's death. Bush made the comments in Las Vegas, according to a May 13, 2011, CNN news report. CNN attributed the news story to ABC News. Bush said he was not "overjoyed" at the news of bin Laden's death but said it was a "good call". After the 9/11 attack Bush said he would hunt down the terrorists who purported the 9/11 attack. One his most famous quotes was "smoke them out of their holes."

President Obama invited Bush to attend a New York memorial service held four days after bin Laden's death. Bush declined. Bush also offered no interviews after bin Laden's death.[68]

President Clinton took an active role in hunting down terrorists during his presidency. In a 2004 CBS 60 Minutes interview Clinton said:[69]

I don’t want to comment on what happened on President Bush’s watch. That’s for the 9/11 attack Commission to do. We not only attacked his training camp in ’98 and tried to get him. I signed several authorizations to use lethal force against bin Laden and his top lieutenants,” says Mr. Clinton. We broke up about 20 Al-Qaeda cells. We arrested some of their people. We prevented several terrorist incidents, including attempts to blow up planes flying into Los Angeles—to blow up the Los Angeles airport over the millennium, to blow up sites in the Middle East as well as in the United States over the millennium," adds Mr. Clinton.

The Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, informally known as the 9-11 Report, stated both Clinton and Bush were not "well served" by the FBI or the CIA.[70]

Plans for anniversary attack

Intelligence gathered during the raid revealed that al-Qaeda members had discussed derailing US trains on September 11, 2011, the tenth anniversary of the original attack. While no particular cities were targeted by the plan it seems Washington, New York and Los Angeles were some of those under review. This information was found when Navy SEALS recovered 10 hard drives, five computers and more than 100 storage devices from bin Laden's compound during the raid.[71]

Legality of the attack

"We are just saying the U.S. government should answer questions concerning whether a meaningful prospect of surrender and arrest was given by the U.S., but perhaps not taken by Osama bin Laden," said United Nations Special Rapporteur Martin Scheininl. UN officials were concerned about how the operation was implemented and whether bin Laden was offered any "meaningful" way to surrender during the operation. UN officials are researching the military operation to confirm whether the operation was legal.[72] In an earlier news release Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the attack was a watershed moment concerning the fight against terrorism.[73]

In response the White House affirmed the attack on bin Laden was legal. Attorney General Eric Holder told US Senate Judiciary committee members the attack was lawful as it was an act of self defense. It is legal to target an enemy commander in the field, said Holder.[74]

Al-Jazeera raised several questions following the changed White House statement that he was unarmed:[75]

  • "If bin Laden was an unarmed target, how can the SEAL commandos' lethal gunshots qualify as an act of self-defence against an imminent risk during a high-profile covert operation?
  • Did the US have the right to perform a targeted killing against Osama bin Laden?
  • Was it legal for the US to carry out a military operation on Pakistani territory without notifying its government?

Role of EITs in finding Osama bin Laden

After the killing of Bin Laden, a broad public discussion broke out in the United States to what extent enhanced interrogation techniques (or EITs) had played a role in finding Osama bin Laden's hideout. Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense in the George W. Bush administration and a proponent of the use of EITs on high-value detainees at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, has remarked that waterboarding contributed to the gathering of crucial intelligence leading to the killing of Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011 by US Navy SEALs.[76] The same has been held by Michael Mukasey, Attorney General under George W. Bush, in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.[77] But CIA director Leon Panetta has denied these allegations and has instead noted that the use of EIT led to very little usable intelligence.[78] Also, in response to Michael Mukasey's article, Republican Senator John McCain published an op-ed in the Washington Post in which he denies the usefulness and the legality of several forms of EITs. In remarks in the Senate on May 12, 2011, McCain, himself the victim of torture at the hands of the North-Vietnamese during the Vietnam War, reported that information he requested from CIA director Leon Panetta showed that

the trail to bin Laden did not begin with a disclosure from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times. We did not first learn from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed the real name of bin Laden's courier, or his alias, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti—the man who ultimately enabled us to find bin Laden.

In fact, not only did the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed not provide us with key leads on bin Laden's courier, Abu Ahmed, it actually produced false and misleading information.[79]

Former Justice Department official and law professor John Yoo, who was one of the authors of the so-called "torture memos" advocating EITs for high-value detainees, has disputed McCain's assessment. Yoo maintains that Khalid Sheik Mohammed may well have lied about the role of the al-Qaeda courier at whose house Osama bin Laden was hiding, but he and Abu Faraj al-Libi did give up the courier's name after enhanced interrogation:

The fact that they tried to deflect attention from the courier doesn't undermine the success of the interrogation. Their stories, which were inconsistent with those of other commanders, raised red flags. Information from multiple sources, when pulled together, can snap the right targets into focus.[80]


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