The road to bin Laden ran through Guantanamo Bay
Bin Laden wasn't only the world's most wanted terrorist. He was Washington's public enemy number one for almost a decade, ever since the bombing attacks in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001.
Assuming that the U.S. made sure before U.S. President Barack Obama's dramatic announcement that the one assassinated is indeed Osama bin Laden – and one would think that the president wouldn't have taken the chance of making such an announcement if he wasn't 100% sure of its veracity – this is one of the most important American military-intelligence, as well as psychological-moral achievements since the end of the Second World War. After innumerable failed attempts to apprehend bin Laden, many in the world have disparaged American intelligence, doubting if it would ever follow through with its professed task.
Bin Laden wasn't only the world's most wanted terrorist. He was, to the United States, public enemy number one for almost a decade, ever since the bombing attacks in New York and Washington D.C. in September 11, 2001. The United States offered a $25 million reward to any one with information as to his whereabouts or maneuvers. But his real price tag was much higher than that. The American intelligence community, including every agency and headed by the CIA and the NSA, saved no expense, technology, or manpower to catch bin Laden alive or dead. One can assume that the search for bin Laden cost the American tax payer many billions. Tonight, it turned out that it was worth every cent.
Tonight's success is first and foremost proof of the patience required of intelligence officers, who stalk their targets like a hunter stalks his prey. Luck doesn't hurt either. Sometimes their cover is blown. Sometimes their prey fails to materialize. And sometimes they stalk the wrong location. Only last week documents leaked by WikiLeaks revealed new details concerning the personal files of bin Laden's soldiers detained in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which shed light on the ways bin Laden fooled and evaded U.S. and British special forces which laid siege on his Tora Bora hiding spot in December of 2001. In the years since, U.S. intelligence executed dozens more "almost" operations, in which the information concerning the movements, or whereabouts of the Saudi arch-terrorist was not accurate enough.
Even though many of the operation details have not been disclosed in the president's announcement or in the briefings U.S. officials are giving to reporters, it was, in principle, a human-intelligence (HUMINT) operation. The difficulty to pinpoint his whereabouts was great. He refrained from using telephones or other digital technological devices, out of fear of leaving a "print" which would enable his pursuers to identify him. Bin Laden transferred his orders through messengers and coded written messages. The initial lead which led to his assassination came out of interrogations of Guantanamo inmates – interrogations which often used torture, a fact that has been condemned by human rights groups. One of these interrogations, of top al-Qaida operative who was close to Khaled Shiekh Muhammad, was helpful in indentifying some of bin Laden's closest aides. U.S. intelligence caught up to them and put them under surveillance. Other HUMINT sources of those part of circles close and far to him and who knew of his hideout were exposed as well. The main principle guiding intelligence officials was "follow the money." The first tips as to his hideout arrived over six months ago, after intelligence officers were able to track courriers in charge of the money transfers bin Laden orchestrated to his Pakistan hideout in order to sustain his wives as well as himself. WikiLeaks documents have already proven that the CIA did not trust the ASA, Pakistani intelligence, many officials of which were suspected of harboring Taliban and al-Qaida sympathies and of hating the United States.
The hit to the Jihadist movement is immense. Ever since 9/11, bin Laden has not been an operational leader, ordering terror attacks. He was sick and exhausted from the pursuit. But his spirit and the inspiration he provided were enough. Al-Qaida had one main motive since the Afghanistan war toppled the Taliban regime and forced bin Laden's disciples to flee. But the idea of holy war against the United States and the West - the infidel crusaders, as bin Laden called them – is alive and kicking. Around the Muslim world, and in concentrations of Muslim populations in the West, new bin Laden disciples have risen, avid supporters who have been following his preaching.
But despite the moral and psychological effect on his disciples, the assassination of their spiritual leader will not spell the end of the ideal. The escalating extremism that has affected a minority of the Muslim world will not stop. The war on terror and fundamental Islam will go on.