News is still flowing in by the minute, so only partial and provisional conclusions are possible.
(1) It should come as no surprise that bin Laden was living amidst Pakistani military men. This blog (post of 11/16/2010) discussed why
the government of Pakistan, where bin Laden is living, has not captured or killed him. CNN interviewed Dr. August Hanning, who was German intelligence chief when the Afghanistan war began and bin Laden was fleeing for his life:
"It's hard for me to believe that [Pakistani officials] know nothing," he said, and in some ways the al Qaeda leader is useful to Pakistan. "So long [as] bin Laden is in Pakistan so Pakistan will get support from the Americans' fight against terrorism."
Pakistan, in short, has been performing the same shameless shakedown of American aid as did El Salvador in the 1980s/1990s (see this blog, post of 11/3/2010.). We'll go ahead and name the game: "War Is Our Most Important Product."
With bin Laden gone, his right hand man, Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, will probably take control of al-Qaeda.
He is a middle class rebel par excellence: Daddy was a university professor of pharmacology; al-Zawahiri is a medical doctor. He is believed to have been the actual chief of terrorist operations for many years, whereas bin Laden's role was more symbolic. For that reason, it remains to be seen if bin Laden's death will mean any significant change in al-Qaeda's strategy and tactics.
The upshot: August Hanning got it right. The Pakistani government had little credibility before; it has even less now. It could start to earn a tidbit by blocking off the city of Abbottabad and conducting a house-to-house search of retired generals and other officers. It could be that Ayman al-Zawahiri is hiding one door away.
I wrote in a post on 10/18/2010, "An Immodest Proposal: How to Kill or Capture bin Laden":
A society and government are no better than what they reward. In 2009, the U.S. awarded $7.5 billion in aid over a 5-year period to Pakistan, where bin Laden is hiding. Instead of giving more money, the U.S. should start knocking off a fixed amount -- say half a million -- for each day bin Laden is not captured or killed. The money saved should be earmarked for domestic spending, e.g., health care, public education, so that it would not be rerouted to Pakistan ... you will have your man in a few weeks, maybe days.
The same program and logic could now be applied to Ayman al-Zawahiri.
(2) The U.S. media are reporting that bin Laden was tracked down over a 4-year period. The connecting link was his most trusted courier who, it is said, was identified by Guantanamo detainees, but only by his nom de guerre. One of those detainees was reportedly Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (see prior two posts on this blog). The courier's real name was somehow identified, he was then tracked to bin Laden's compound.
That story could very well be true; however, two questions emerge.
(i) KSM was arrested in 2003, bin Laden's compound was built in 2005; therefore, it is doubtful KSM knew bin Laden's precise location. As for the courier, the messenger is always the weakest point for anybody who is hiding and hunted. Well, it is difficult to believe that bin Laden would retain the same courier all those years. This is especially true when bin Laden clearly knew of the imprisonment of KSM and other terrorists who had worked with the courier. Common sense conclusion: bin Laden would have replaced the courier.
Which leads to this speculative question:
(ii) Could the entire courier story be a fabrication, a deliberate misdirection to protect someone who gave away bin Laden's location and collected the $50 million reward? A secondary benefit of the courier story: KSM, whose trial will begin soon, could end up with a more lenient sentence, i.e., life instead of death, and/or new and improved circumstances, notably a room with a view. After all, he "helped finger bin Laden."
A necessary footnote: a glaring inconsistency needs to be cleared up. According to The New York Times, the courier was a protege of KSM. If that is true, how could KSM NOT know the courier's real name?