The more we hear about the operation that killed Bin Laden, the more impressive it becomes. US Navy Seals held dummy-runs of the raid on April 7th and 13th part of the extensive, leak-free planning that appears to have been going on for months.
I think there are two things that come out of this raid that the West need to talk about. First, Pakistan and its role: did no one in the Pakistani state have any idea that Bin Laden was in Abbottabad, a town dominated by the Pakistani military? As Steve Coll writes at the New Yorker, ‘Who owned the land on which the house was constructed? How was the land acquired, and from whom? Who designed the house, which seems to have been purpose-built to secure bin Laden? Who was the general contractor? Who installed the security systems? Who worked there? Are there witnesses who will now testify as to who visited the house, how often, and for what purpose?
Second, we need to discuss the efficacy of some of the least popular parts of the US response to 9/11. It is tempting, and easy, to believe that all the aspects of the war on terror that sit uneasily with our values are unproductive. In recent years, the tendency has been to dismiss Guantanamo as nothing more than a public diplomacy disaster. But it appears, and this is not information that suits the Obama administration’s political purposes, that the vital tip that started this whole process came from someone detained at Guantanamo. How this information was obtained remains to be seen.
The conventional wisdom among the commentariat is fast becoming that the death of Bin Laden will make little difference. But I think this is wrong on both a practical and strategic level.