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Monday, May 02, 2011

3519 Days for One Psycho?

The news that United States Special Forces have killed Osama bin Laden and captured his body should provide some sense of justice served to those who lost family or loved ones in the attacks sponsored by al Queda througout the world ranging from the the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania on August 7, 1998 to the USS Cole on October 12, 2000 to the attacks on September 11, 2001 and beyond.

It should also provide a huge sense of satisfaction and the beginning of a sense of "mission accomplished" for the hundreds of thousands who have actively served in our military in the silent and not-so-silent war on terror.

For the rest of us in America less directly affected by the attacks or the wars launched in response, what are we to make of the news?

It's certainly a relief to know one really bad actor in the movie has reached an ending you'd wish on the evil villian in a Hollywood western. But the specifics of his demise point out a few issues that will continue posing problems for the world and the United States in particular.

The news reports now indicate OBL was killed in the city of Abbottabad, located 150km north of Islamabad and 200km east of Peshawer. Here's the description of the town from Wikipedia:

The city is well-known throughout Pakistan for its pleasant weather, high standard educational institutions and military establishments. It remains a major hub for tourism of regions in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir in the summer.

A major hub for tourism? I suspect many Americans thought OBL was supposed to be camped out in a cave, cooking ten year old cans of beans on a can of Sterno wondering when the next dialysis machine treatment would arrive by camel or goat.

Instead, it sounds like OBL was hidden in relative plain sight within a relatively well known city within Pakistan, supposedly a US ally. He obviously moved around over the past 3519 days but he likely spent much of that time in similar settings. Since the Special Operations team presumably killed everyone at the compound housing OBL, we can be certain they will scour every square inch of the facility for cell phones, laptops, tape recorders and correspondence to help reverse engineer the network of contacts that allowed OBL to operate for so long.

President Obama's official announcement regarding OBL's death took pains to state that this effort to capture / kill OBL actually began last August when intelligence provided with cooperation from Pakistani sources was first provided to US intelligence to trigger months of clandestine vetting. Teamwork with our ally, that's nice. Yet other stories are reporting US Special Operations forces alone carried out the attack that killed OBL. Apparently, once vetted, we could not trust our Pakistani peers with details of the operation for fear of a tip-off.

While eliminating one really bad guy, information about the location of the operation and chain of people involved with the original intelligence and those found in proximity to the location where he was hidden is likely to shine a light on many other problems within the Pakistani government and the military's Directorate for Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI). This information is NOT likely to help stabilize and moderate Pakistan in the short term. Far from it.

The most important question posed by the elimination of OBL for the United States is simply "what now?".

OBL is gone but the echos of his madness are not silent, nor are the reverberations from America's responses to his madness. America launched two wars in response to fear of additional terrorism and both continue to exact a horrific toll of loss for American service men and women and an unsustainable economic burden to our economy. Since 2001, America has created a vast new hidden national security apparatus that is off-budget and unaccountable to most in Congress and unknown to most American citizens that is costing tens of billions yearly. Yet those billions spent didn't yield the intelligence that led to the elimination of OBL and they didn't yield leads that stopped the would-be underwear bomber headed for Detroit.

America was supposed to have learned many lessons about the communication needs of our first responders throughout the country but we squandered many of the funds allocated for those improvements to local and state pork projects or "studies" and now many states are so broke they're resorting to laying off first responders rather than equipping them properly as we swore we'd do after 9/11/2001.

3519 days for one psycho?

I certainly hope the families of the victims of al Queda's attacks in America and around the world can gain a sense of relief, justice and closure from the news. I certainly hope those serving in our military and their families can enjoy some sense of satisfaction and a little hope that their jobs might be able to wind down a bit.

For the rest of us? We still have some thinking and reflection to do. It shouldn't have taken 3519 days to nab the most notorious psychopath currently on the planet. The fact that it did indicates our efforts were not directed over much of these past 3519 days in the most effective directions and probably still are not directed where they should be.