On the eve of today’s five-year anniversary of 9-11, the Washington Post offered a predictable–and misleading–article on our (so far) unsuccessful efforts to track down Osama bin Laden. Over the course of several thousand words, WaPo staff writers Dana Priest and Ann Scott Tyson report that bin Laden’s trail has grown “stone cold” over the past two years, with no new leads on his whereabouts.
While acknowledging that the Bush Administration has stepped up efforts to find the Al Qaida leader, merging resources from the CIA and U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), the Post reports that the search has grown more difficult because it’s “difficult to know where to flood the zone.” One spokesman for the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) observed that “you’ve got a guy who’s gone off the net and is hiding in some of the most formidable terrain in one of the most remote parts of the world, surrounded by people he trusts implicity.”
Next to his death (or capture), having bin Laden holed up in a cave along the Afghan-Pakistan capture is a clear measure of success in the War on Terror. Absent from the Post article is a comparison of Al Qaida leadership in the Fall of 2006, and its status five years ago. Just last week, the group released a tape of bin Laden meeting with some of the 9-11 operatives and openly plotting the attacks on American. Five years later, there is ample evidence that bin Laden is more concerned with survival than planning. Al Qaida has morphed into a de-centralized threat, with local cells taking on most of the responsibility of plotting and executing additional attacks. In some cases, these efforts have met with some success (as evidenced by the attacks in Bali, Madrid and London). However, in other instances, Al Qaida’s efforts have become slap-dash or even amateurish, highlighted by the recently-foiled effort to create “hair gel” bombs to bring down more airliners.
The Post won’t admit it, but half a decade into the War on Terror, Osama bin Laden has been largely reduced to a spiritual leader and propaganda mouth-piece for his organization. His recent video tape is a reminder of what he–and his organization–once were, not what they have become. With more than two-thirds of its senior leadership dead or in jail, the operational center for the organization has shifted, leaving bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri to grind out periodic video and audio tapes, promising death and destruction for those who refuse to become part of the new caliphate. As an operational commander, bin Laden’s halcyon days are probably past, a clear indication of progress in the war on terror.
True, bin Laden and his ever-shrinking inner circle remain a threat, but they are not the threat they were five years ago. Ignoring that reality undescores the Post’s desire to advance liberal talking point, and not offer a balanced assessment of progress in the GWOT. Contrary to the thrust of the Post article, getting bin Laden off the net is a significant accomplishment that has made the nation more secure. One wonders if Priest and Tyson see any connection between bin Laden’s increased isolation, and the absence of terrorist attacks in the U.S. since 9-11? From their perspective, that is probably nothing more than a happy coincidence.
Of course, any assertion about the danger posed by bin Laden raises another, lingering question: if the terror mastermind was–and is–such a threat, why wasn’t more done during the 1990s to capture him, when the opportunity was clearly at hand? As ABC discovered last week, that inconvenient truth remains a sore point among the liberal elite, which successfully lobbied the network to re-edit its 9-11 mini-series that began last night. The intense lobbying campaign mounted by Clinton and his former staffers reminds us that, from their vantage point, the threat posed by bin Laden didn’t materialize until that fateful day in September, exactly five years ago.