- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 1, 2011

With the killing of Osama bin Laden, the United States has “kept its commitment to see that justice is done,” President Obama said Monday.

“The world is safer — it is a better place because of the death of Osama bin Laden,” Mr. Obama said at an event conferring the Medal of Honor on two soldiers who died in the Korean War. 

“Today we are reminded that, as a nation, there’s nothing we can’t do when we put our shoulders to the wheel, when we work together. And we remember the sense of unity that defines us as Americans.”

He said that sense of unity is reflected in the enthusiasm of people who gathered outside the White House and at Ground Zero in New York to celebrate the death of the al Qaeda leader.

“People are proud to live in the United States of America,” he said.

The successful raid on a compound in Pakistan that killed bin Laden on Sunday “would not have happened” without the efforts of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates; Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, Joint Chiefs vice chairman, Mr. Obama said, praising all members of the nation’s armed forces.

“As commander-in-chief, I could not be prouder of our men and women in uniform,” he said.

The president awarded the medals to the families of Army Pfcs. Anthony T. Kaho’ohanohano and Henry Svehla, both of whom sacrificied themselves to save other soldiers during the Korean war.

Bin Laden’s body was buried at sea after he was killed by U.S. forces in a surprise attack Sunday on the compound where he had been living in Pakistan, U.S. officials said as new details emerged about the dramatic operation that brings to an end a decade-long manhunt for the world’s top terrorist.

Officials speaking on condition of anonymity said information gained from interrogations of suspected terrorists led to persons close to bin Laden, which culminated in the Sunday raid on the compound.

President Obama signed off on the raid Friday morning at 8:20 a.m., ordering his national security team to draft formal orders before he left for Alabama to tour the tornado damage there, according to a senior administration official.

At 2 p.m. Sunday, the commander-in-chief reviewed final preparations for a special forces raid on the highly fortified compound in Pakistan. He was then notified at 3:50 p.m. that bin Laden, the founder of al Qaeda, had been “tentatively identified,” and he received additional briefings in the White House situation room throughout the night, the official said.

Officials briefing reporters early Monday described the operation as “a surgical raid by a small team” that lasted under 40 minutes. In addition to bin Laden, three men — believed to be his son and two couriers — were killed, as well as a woman who was used as a shield by one of the men.

Officials said bin Laden fired a weapon at the American forces, but no U.S. troops were harmed.

Meanwhile, at the State Department on Monday morning, Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton said bin Laden’s killing should be a warning to the Taliban forces in Afghanistan that they “cannot wait us out.”

Late Sunday night, Mr. Obama was able to announce to a waiting country that the decade-long manhunt was over.

“Justice has been done,” Mr. Obama said in a somber speech from the White House’s East Room.

“His demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity,” the president said.

He said bin Laden was killed in a compound in Abbottobad, about 60 miles from the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, where he apparently had been for months. Mr. Obama said he first was briefed last August on intelligence suggesting bin Laden’s location.

“A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability,” Mr. Obama said. “After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.”

Bin Laden’s death is the biggest victory the U.S. has scored in the decade-old war on terrorism and comes at a time when Mr. Obama is trying to chart a way forward on the war in Afghanistan.

The 2001 attacks killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, the Pentagon and the field in Pennsylvania, where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed. Ten years later, the effects of the attacks are visible everywhere in American life — from the security measures on the streets of the nation’s capital to the intensive screening at airports and the terrorist detention center at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“Bin Laden’s death is the greatest victory for the U.S. in the war on terror since the defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq. There is no better symbolic victory in this war than the defeat of the terrorist network´s leader,” said Charlie Szrom, an international-affairs analyst with D.C. International Advisory.

Outside the White House, a celebratory crowd had gathered spontaneously even before the president spoke and could be heard from inside the White House, chanting, “U.S.A., U.S.A.”

By the time the president had finished, there were several thousand people outside the White House gates — chanting, firing off hockey-goal horns, and flying or wearing American flags. In the crowd there could be seen at least one Iraqi flag being waved in the crowd and a Bush-Cheney sign.

“I’ve never been so proud of us,” one woman said as she waded into the rally.

A spontaneous rally also erupted in New York’s Times Square.

The congratulations quickly began pouring in from across the political spectrum — former President George W. Bush; House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican; and Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican — had issued statements within minutes of the end of the Obama speech.

“Earlier this evening, President Obama called to inform me that American forces killed Osama bin Laden. … I congratulated him and the men and women of our military and intelligence communities who devoted their lives to this mission. … They have our everlasting gratitude,” said Mr. Bush, who held office on the day of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and launched the war on terror.

Added New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg: “The killing of Osama bin Laden does not lessen the suffering that New Yorkers and Americans experienced at his hands, but it is a critically important victory for our nation — and a tribute to the millions of men and women in our armed forces and elsewhere who have fought so hard for our nation.”

But the State Department issued a sobering reminder that the war on terrorism continues just after the speech was over, putting U.S. embassies on alert and warning Americans traveling worldwide of the possibility of reprisal attacks from al Qaeda.

Bin Laden had been in hiding for most of the last decade after apparently escaping from American forces in the battle of Tora Bora in late 2001, and hiding out along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

The wealthy, Saudi-born bin Laden founded al Qaeda and helped finance the organization’s repeated terrorist attacks. It has been blamed for the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen; the 2005 London bus and subway bombings; and a series of other attacks.

Offshoot groups have also conducted attacks in al Qaeda’s name, and the killing of bin Laden raises the question of who will be the future leaders of the organization.

Regional leaders of terrorist groups affiliated with al Qaeda that could provide future leadership include U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki and Nasir al Wuhayshi in Yemen and Sirajuddin Haqqani in Pakistan.

U.S. intelligence thought it killed bin Laden’s son, Saad bin Laden, in 2010, though reports have surfaced that he may still be alive. He had traveled to Pakistan from Iran in 2009

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, director of the Center for the Study of Terrorist Radicalization at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, said the death of bin Laden would hurt al Qaeda operationally, even beyond the obvious symbolic value.

“Osama bin Laden was more operationally relevant to al Qaeda, even in recent years, than many analysts understood. This is an enormous blow to the jihadi network in multiple ways,” he said.

Still, Mr. Gartenstein-Ross cautioned, the death of bin Laden “does not kill al Qaeda.”

“The jihadi group possesses other rather prominent leaders who can step in to serve as figureheads for the group, along with pairing militant skill sets with operatives, financing and other essentials in order to execute terrorist plots and undertake other militant activities,” he said.

He also warned about the precedent from the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, which quickly overthrew the Taliban regime that had sheltered bin Laden and let al Qaeda set up bases and a network. However, bin Laden himself slipped away.

“Al Qaeda also has numerous affiliate groups that will remain alive and relevant. So this development is highly significant, full stop. But we took our eye off the ball in 2001, thinking al Qaeda was functionally dead when it was anything but. Let’s not make the same mistake again,” he said.

Mr. Szrom agreed, adding that “the war on terror will not be won until the U.S. and its allies decrease the control al Qaeda and its affiliates have in safe havens around the world. The networks and individuals that operate in these territories will continue to plot terror attacks against the West.”

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