Even after a decade of Laden’s extermination by US forces, terrorism thrives with new names and in more pronounced measure
May 2, this year, marked the completion of 10 years of the killing of the Saudi-born undisputed Al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, by the US Navy Seals in a daredevil operation Abbottabad, Pakistan. After Laden was neutralised, the US and its Western allies, who always portrayed the Al Qaeda supremo as the mastermind behind the September 11 aerial terror attacks, thought that the global Islamic terror would now come to an end bringing in universal peace and tranquillity. Their assessment, however, went wide off the mark and euphoria went for a toss as we examine the situation ten years down the line; with a plethora of terror-linked activities by Al Qaeda, under the leadership of another radical Al Zawahiri, still taking place. This said, we need to quickly recapitulate the unfolding of US-led special operations leading to the riddance of Laden, a decade ago.
US helicopter squadrons — comprising special choppers, Black Hawk, Stealth and Chinook — were perched at a hidden base in Jalalabad in Afghanistan, very close to the Pakistan border. Rewinding the scenario that existed in Abbottabad that day, four US helicopters, two Stealth Black Hawk, and two Chinook flew very low to escape detection from the Pakistani radars overflying Ghursal and Shilman in the northern Khyber area on their approach to the hideout. This is where Osama was thought to be safely ensconced as per the CIA inputs gathered through drone photography and human intelligence input from one Dr Afridi, a veterinarian recruited by the CIA to look for bin Laden. The US Navy crack team for this mission landed in the hideout at nearly midnight, killed Osama, and finished the operation in 40 minutes in a neat surgical precision. After the 'Mission Accomplished', the choppers flew back safely to the Jalalabad airbase giving no whiff at all to the Pakistani Air Force or Army. Ironically, the Pakistani Military Academy is at the heart of Abbottabad, and Osama hideout was not far from it. Even ten years after Osama was killed, the studies by security and military experts time and again reiterate that Pakistani intelligence laid in tatters without any clue that Osama has been living in the cantonment town for a considerable period without arousing any suspicion to the military or civil intelligence agencies while the fact remains that Osama bin Laden was the most wanted and haunted man by one and all. The Pakistan government was hugely embarrassed, and the humiliation still runs even after ten years. History will judge it very harshly for the generations to come.
Here, it's pertinent to that the important members of the dramatis persona in Pakistan during this US-sponsored foolproof strike targeting Laden included President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, Army Chief, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and DG Military Operations (DGMO), Major Gen Ishfaq Nadeem. According to an upcoming book 'No Win War' on the subject, authored by famous Pakistani journalist Zahid Hussain, after Osama was killed and his body carted away, US armed forces Chief, Mike Mueller phoned his Pakistani counterpart Gen Kayani and broke the news. Kayani was naturally shattered by the news as there was a blatant breach of territorial security in air space but he couldn't even muster the courage of making a token of protest. He reported this incident of humiliation to President Zardari who was also an ex-officio Supreme Commander of the Pakistani armed forces but, according to knowledgeable sources, his reaction too was muted. The then ISI chief, Lt Gen Shuja Pasha was conveyed about the operation by CIA head Leon Panetta confirming the deadly and decisive act in killing Osama at the backyard of Pakistani military garrison by US Navy Seals. Before Pakistani officials could recover from the shock, President Obama called up Asif Ali Zardari confirming the news. The humiliation was all-around and complete. Barely a month before May 2, 2011, the Chief of the Army Staff Parvez Ashfaq Kayani, while addressing the newly inducted commissioned officers in the Abbottabad-based military academy, had proudly claimed that the back of Al Qaeda was broken for good. Other than the face loss of Pakistan, the credibility of the country was severely dented and it remains so even after ten years. Anti-terror experts reckon that Zahid Hussain's book 'No Win war' covering all relevant details as dwelt upon here will be shedding more light on this aspect.
However, contrary to the assessment that after Osama's annihilation, terror activities will be checked, it didn't happen. Al Qaeda, by name, may have suffered a reversal after his death, but with similar ideology, with a hundred times more ferocity, ISIS emerged under Baghdadi who along with his radicalised army, acted like a killing machine, decimating innocents in Iraq, Syria and adjoining areas. Its impact was so devastating that recruits from almost all over the world inclined towards the religious extremism ideology joined the armed cadres to fight along with ISIS. These gruesome activities continued unabated till recently when it perhaps cosmetically looked like losing its steam. Religious indoctrination through cyberspace charmed strayed Muslim youth from several corners of the world. This included many educated and professionals too. That was a disturbing trend threatening global peace. In Europe, we found France battling to fight against Islamic ideology in 2015 in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria were all affected rather badly. In Africa, we still see Mali, Mauritania, Somalia, Kenya, Mozambique and some other countries, reeling under the spell of Islamic radicalism and hate violence, claiming thousands of lives. Asia too remains afflicted. Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka etc. are intermittently rocked by suicide bombings and mass killings. With or without Laden, ten years down the line the ideology lives on. Despite Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's tough handling of the terrorists, we see the emergence of Hefazat-e-Islam which is nearly more than a decade old but has been wreaking havoc in the recent past. As I am wrapping up this piece, news is trickling in that the former Maldives PM was targeted in a near-fatal suspected terror attack. The region is becoming more perilous than before. Perhaps, a well-coordinated, anti-terror policy at the global level is the need of the hour or else Ladens will continue to emerge, threatening the very tranquil, and exploding the myth that Osama's killing had seen an end to all terror ordeals.
The writer is a retired IPS officer, a security analyst and a former National Security Advisor to the PM of Mauritius. Views expressed are personal