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John Metzler Archive
Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Dealing with a cowardly superterrorist the right way: Up close and personal

NEW YORK — Returning to New York Sunday night, the sweeping view of Manhattan from the bridge was unusually clear; the skyline, the shimmering lights, and the still sadly gaping void where the World Trade Center once stood. I still can never view lower Manhattan without remembering the searing events of September 11th 2001 and saying a silent prayer for friends and acquaintances among the more than 3,000 people murdered that day by Osama Bin Laden and the Al Qaida terrorist network.


Also In This Edition

Osama Bin Laden's hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
AFP/Farooq Naeem

Hours later, and totally unexpectedly, there was a form of closure and nervous jubilation when news bulletins and a mass media cascade went wall to wall with the stunning news that American military forces had killed Osama Bin Laden in what was presumed to be his longtime mountain hideout.

America’s terrible swift sword in the form of a U.S. Navy SEAL team has cut the head off the Al Qaida snake; Bin Laden, the gloating terrorist mastermind who had eluded three U.S. Presidents, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama was finally dead.

Without question this evil man who had attacked the USA on September 11th and whose terrorist affiliates were active globally was rightfully dispatched in Pakistan, not in some forsaken cave, but in a secured villa complex, less than a mile from the Pakistani Military Academy (the equivalent to West Point!).

It’s early to say, but let me say it. There has been long-running complicity between sections of the Pakistan military and both the Taliban terrorists as well as Al Qaida. Elements of Pakistan’s shadowy military intelligence have traditionally used terrorist elements as a cat’s paw to control events in neighboring Afghanistan or Kashmir. The Pakistan government, besides its notorious corruption, has certain elements which have played both sides in their alliance with the USA.

If Bin Laden was discovered cowering in a remote cave in the wild quarters of Pakistan, well, that would have been probable; but having the seemingly safe refuge and “protection” perhaps from some rogue elements of the Islamabad government which the USA has supported with massive flows of aid is something else and decidedly despicable.

There is no question that the Al Qaida network has targeted Pakistan too, and that country’s civilians and military has suffered immeasurably from both the spillover from the Afghan war and Bin Laden. Sheltering of Bin Laden may be the work of rogue factions inside Pakistan, who probably play the USA by day and pay Al Qaida by night.

The bigger story is the symbolic and psychological shock Bin Laden’s death will have throughout the Middle East and much of the Muslim world. While his hateful ideology appealed to a violent minority, the fact remains that Bin Laden’s brand of violence had probably peaked and was broken by tough American military actions after 2001. In recent years his prominence has fallen, as many people believed he may already be dead or would never be found.

Thanks to the perseverance of the U.S. over the past decade, and especially thanks to a superb intelligence operations and military we were able to carry out the surgical strike to kill this terror kingpin, and bring justice to his victims in the USA and abroad.

In recent months the Obama Administration has authorized increased unmanned drone attacks on Taliban and Al Qaida targets in Pakistan; the diplomatic collateral damage between Washington and Islamabad has been extensive. America’s reputation in Pakistan (an apparent ally) has fallen dramatically.

I’m happy a drone did not kill Bin Laden as was originally reported. Why? In the Muslim world drone attacks are seen as using remote computer-game type technology to fight terrorists and often mistakenly kill civilians. The point being this is somehow “unfair” as it is not a face to face fight but rather seemingly a lightning bolt from the sky.

What Bin Laden got was the business end of a U.S. Navy Seal Team up close and personal; the kind of impression which will stun and take the smirky swagger from the terrorists who always claim the Americans can fight only with technology.

The war against Al Qaida terrorism is not over. But a milestone has been passed.

Frustrations over the years in finding Bin Laden seem to have evaporated, but the enduring pains of the September 11th 2001 attacks, nearly a decade ago, have not disappeared.

Speaking of needed perseverance in tracking down terrorists, Ronald Reagan once memorably stated: “You can run, but you cannot hide.” Bin Laden discovered that; there is a new face in Hell.

John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for

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