Osama bin Laden’s death was cheered by scores of Americans, but his demise is unlikely to mend the US administration’s severely frayed ties with Islamabad or ease fierce fighting in Afghanistan.
US President Barack Obama announced late on Sunday that the al Qaeda leader was shot to death in Abbottabad, near Pakistan’s capital, ending the United States decade-long quest to snare the man behind the September 11 attacks.
Analysts and officials warned the United States was unlikely to see a swift end to its troubles in a region where American policy has, for the last decade, been driven by its fears of another such attack.
“It’s important for US and European allies to remember that there’s still a lot of work to do,” a senior Western official in Kabul said on condition of anonymity.
“This doesn’t change the fact that there's an insurgency that is an existential threat to the government of Afghanistan, and that Pakistan is a basket-case that is a threat to regional security,” the official said.
The Obama administration is grappling with record violence in Afghanistan even as it prepares to begin pulling out some of the 100,000 US soldiers this July.
Ties with Islamabad, an important if unreliable US ally against militants, have strained close to a breaking point over US drone attacks on insurgents along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan and over Pakistan’s six-week imprisonment of a CIA contractor earlier this year.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, last month accused Pakistan’s intelligence agency of maintaining ties with militants targeting US troops in Afghanistan.
Obama, speaking in a hastily announced late-night new conference, said cooperation from Pakistan had helped lead US forces to Bin Laden. But American and Pakistani sources familiar with details of the operation said US forces snared bin Laden virtually behind Pakistan’s back.
That could be a sign of mounting frustration in Washington with Pakistan, one of the top non-NATO recipients of US military aid, over what US officials say is Islamabad’s unwillingness to do enough against militants who launch attacks against American soldiers in Afghanistan.
Imtiaz Gul, a security analyst in Islamabad, said bin Ladens capture in a town several hours drive from his country’s was a “serious blow to the credibility of Pakistan”.
While Obama called it a “good and historic day” for both countries, he also chided Pakistan, urging it to “continue to join us in the fight”.
The euphoria in Washington was hard to find in Afghanistan, where about 130,000 foreign troops are bracing for a bloody spring offensive for a resilient Taliban.
The Obama administration has credited a surge of US troops into Afghanistan with helping push the Taliban out of key areas, but the Pentagon is also warning that violence is likely to keep getting worse.
Some analysts said Bin Laden’s death could encourage the Taliban, which hosted bin Laden before September 11, to split from al Qaeda and support the kind of political settlement many see as the only option to ending almost a decade of war in Afghanistan.
“At the least, bin Laden’s death will cause soul-searching among the Taliban leadership as they weigh the utility of remaining allied to an organisation that has lost its founding leader,” said Lisa Curtis, a regional expert with the Heritage Foundation in Washington.
Three presidents who hunted for Osama
The man who eluded three US presidents has finally been cornered and eliminated.
Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was shot and killed by US forces in Pakistan on Monday. Former US President George W Bush, who was in office at the time of the September 11 attacks and famously said he wanted bin Laden dead or alive, called the death of the al Qaeda leader a “momentous achievement.” Here are some quotes from the last three US presidents.
Obama said in September 2010 that finding bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri remained a high priority. “Capturing or killing bin Laden and Zawahri would be extremely important to our national security,” Obama said. “It doesn’t solve all our problems but it remains a high priority to this administration.”
George W Bush
“We get all kinds of reports - that he’s in a cave, that he’s not in a cave; that he’s escaped, that he hasn’t escaped, and there’s all kinds of speculation. But when the dust clears, we’ll find out,” Bush said in December 2001.
In August 1998 Bill Clinton had ordered US cruise missile strikes on what he called terrorist bases in Afghanistan and Sudan, in response to the bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. He lacked intelligence inputs then.