Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan during a CIA raid approved by President Obama yesterday.
U.S. President Barack Obama announced today, at approximately 11:36 EST, that Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the 2001 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, has been killed in Abottabad, Pakistan. President Obama stated in his speech that, upon taking office in 2009, he had directed his CIA director, Leon S. Panetta, to make bin Laden’s death or capture a “top priority”.
President Obama was apparently briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden’s location in August 2010. Though Obama described the lead as tentative, he approved a follow-up, which finally turned up a possible location for Osama bin Laden in recent weeks. President Obama approved an operation by special forces (6th Navy Seals) to kill or capture Osama bin Laden. These special forces closed in on bin Laden’s location, killing him after a firefight. Obama claimed that the agents took great care to avoid civilian deaths, yet did not reveal whether any civilians were actually harmed.
President Obama credited Pakistani intelligence agencies as critical to leading American forces to bin Laden’s compound, stating that they viewed bin Laden’s elimination as an equally high priority. Abottabad lies approximately 35 miles to the north of Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad.
President Obama’s speech focused on a sense of “justice” for the families and relatives on 9/11 victims, as well as the importance of this “bringing to justice” in demonstrating what America is able to accomplish. He also noted that the “War on Terror” was not a “War on Islam”, and that Osama bin Laden should in no way be considered a “Muslim leader”.
The President’s speech was short and to the point: a prime-time address at nearly midnight is hardly the place for extended soul. Still, it’s worth noting what was left out, if only as a jumping-off point for conversation. There was little mention of the thousands of others who experienced death or imprisonment along the 10-year long journey of the “War on Terror”, inaugurated under President Bush, Obama’s predecessor. There was no mention of bin Laden’s beginnings, in the U.S.-funded jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda has not been stopped by any means, and it remains to be seen how bin Laden’s death will impact the organization.
Bin Laden’s death is largely symbolic, but symbols have power, especially in domestic politics. His killing presents a clear-cut foreign policy success for Obama, much as the capture of Saddam Hussein did for President Bush following the Iraq war in 2003. Even as President Obama spoke, a crowd of Americans gathered outside the White House, waving American flags and reportedly shouting “USA! USA!” Obama presented the killing of Osama bin Laden as an example of what America can accomplish if it applies itself,
“not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are.”
In death, Osama bin Laden is presented as he has been seen in the United States for much of the past 15 years: a monster who must be stopped at all costs. The monster has been slain; now comes a prime opportunity to try to untangle the nightmare of the past decade, as we try to gauge just what those costs have been.
[Updated 12:15pm 05.02.2011]
– Timeline of Osama bin Laden assassination
– Thoughts on bin Laden’s death with respect to the broader Middle East
– Repercussions of bin Laden’s location – not far from Pakistan’s capital
– Reaction within Arab countries to bin Laden’s death (audio)
Andrew Lieber is a student at Brown University
Tik Root is a student at Middlebury College