The “official” story we have been told for years is that Osama Bin Laden has spent the last few years holed up in a cave, no longer running the day to day of Al Qaeda network, but simply acting as a figurehead. On Sunday we learned that the “cave meme” was nonsense that the Terrorist was living in a million dollar estate in suburban Pakistan. Today we learned that Bin Laden was not simply a figure-head, he was actively commanding the terror group’s affiliates in Yemen, Somalia and other parts of North Africa.
According to Eli Lake in the Washington Times, Bin Laden’s Pakistani hiding place had all the communication needs to run the terror network including hard drives, thumb drives and most importantly a dedicated fiber-optic cable used for point-to-point access to the Internet, according to two U.S. officials who read initial after-action reports on the raid. The Navy Seals also found the recording equipment Bin Laden used to create those audio messages he issued since he went into hiding.
One U.S. intelligence official who asked not to be named said “a peripheral scan of the data suggests that he provided strategic guidance and direction to al Qaeda’s affiliates. We knew he had contact with the affiliates through couriers, but the evidence we have now is that he delivered the strategic direction to many of these groups.”
U.S. intelligence analysts for at least two years have said bin Laden exercised strategic control over al Qaeda and its affiliates. As with most intelligence work, however, there were uncertainties.
Obviously this is a not a consensus opinion but it makes sense that bin Laden was acting as a CEO, not making the day to day decisions but providing the “big picture” decisions.
A U.S. official who asked not to be named said bin Laden gave broad orders to al Qaeda affiliates, such as orders to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, to attack the continental United States. He also said bin Laden received payments from al Qaeda’s affiliates and approved mergers of affiliates.
Mary Habeck, an expert on al Qaeda at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, said bin Laden moved to the Abbottabad compound to take charge of the affiliates that were forming in 2005 and 2006.
“I absolutely am convinced the reason he moved there in 2005 and 2006 is that he needed to take closer control of his globalized Jihad,” she said. “This is precisely at the time when the affiliates are being created. This is precisely at the time when Iraq is becoming more and more al Qaeda’s war. It is precisely the moment when the war in Afghanistan is about to take off.”
Ms. Habeck, a strategic planner for the National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration, said: “I envision bin Laden’s role in operations as similar to the secretary of defense,” a leader who does not direct every soldier’s activity but provides overall direction and command.
Even if Bin Laden was still closely involved with the Terror Network, his death by no means is the end of Al Qaeda. These ‘franchise” terror groups still have plenty of home grown jihad in them, along with a thirst for revenging their fallen leader.