William Hamilton: The Raid: strategic and political implications
May 11, 2011
With regard to U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6, two quotations are apropos: George Orwell wrote: “We sleep safely in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.” In The Bridges of Toko-Ri, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist James Michener asked: “Where do we get such men as these?”
Someday, we will know exactly how the mission in the Osama bin Laden compound was accomplished. For now, let’s stick with what we know with absolute certainty: The members of Seal Team 6 know how they carried out their assigned mission; however, it is safe to say that their lips are, well, sealed. Doubtless, the team commander sent a highly classified, after-action report up his chain-of-command.
We can also say with certainty that to make public the details of a successful mission would alert the Islamic jihadists and others to the methods, techniques, and intelligence sources used to execute an almost picture-perfect mission. Therefore, we can expect the classified after-action report to remain classified for a very long time. Beyond that, and until the Department of Defense provides whatever information military necessity allows, all the rest is fevered media speculation.
But it is already obvious that the mission had at least two objectives, the relative importance of which will, no doubt, provide grist for many media mills. When faced with two events, it is human nature to try to rank-order them and say, for example, that one could have been carried out without the lesser objective being accomplished, or done differently.
Clearly, one objective was to kill or capture Osama bin Laden, albeit with the proviso that troop safety be paramount. As the old military saying goes, “When in doubt, shoot it out.” The other objective was the removal of computer hard-drives, thumb drives, and al-Qaida’s operational documents that might list al-Qaida personnel, al-Qaida’s organization structure, and also the details of who is financing al-Qaida, and how they are doing it.
If Osama bin Laden was using a buried, undetectable, fiber-optic cable to communicate with members of al-Qaida outside that compound, that would suggest Osama bin Laden, despite earlier speculation to the contrary, was very much in command of al-Qaida world-wide.
There is already speculation as to how the decision to assault the bin Laden compound was made. Who actually made the so-called “gutsy” decision? Who was opposed to the operation? Apparently, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Gen. David Petraeus; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and CIA Director Norman Panetta were convinced some time ago that the mission needed to be carried out and be executed before the computer drives and documents could fall into the “wrong” hands.
We can assume the Navy SEALs took away a treasure trove of actionable intelligence about al-Qaida world-wide. Whether that is true it would make good tactical sense to cause what is left of al-Qaida to think that U.S. forces are about to come calling in the middle of the night.
We also know the trail to the bin Laden compound began under President George W. Bush and resulted from enhanced interrogation techniques used on a handful of senior al-Qaida operatives who had been, at some point, or still are, inside the Gitmo detention facility. One or more of the Gitmo detainees revealed the identity of a courier who, eventually, led the SEALs to Osama bin Laden.
Leaving the details of who actually made the “gutsy” decision to others, what are the strategic implications of the death of Osama bin Laden and of the assumed treasure trove of information? Now, Mr. Obama might be in the political position to say “We won.” That could enable the U.S. to start pulling troops out of Afghanistan, that “graveyard of empires,” even sooner than planned.
Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, was educated at the University of Oklahoma, the George Washington University, the U.S Naval War College, the University of Nebraska, and Harvard University.
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