Apr 15, 2004

New OBL tape Special to site

He's Back
More than two and a half years after the attacks on Manhattan and Washington Osama bin Laden continues to influence the scope of the global jihad that al Qaeda put into motion with the 9/11 attacks. In October bin Laden released an audiotape calling for attacks on Spain, Britain and Italy, because of those countries participation in the coalition in Iraq. After that tape was released an al Qaeda-affiliated group attacked an Italian police barracks in southern Iraq killing seventeen, Islamist militants carried out suicide attacks against a British bank and consulate in Istanbul killing some sixty people, and last month multiple bombs in Madrid killed 191, an attack largely carried out by Moroccan members of the al Qaeda network.

Now comes the most recent bin Laden audiotape released on Thursday, a tape the CIA has confirmed is likely al Qaeda's leader. Despite the fact that American and Pakistani troops have mounted a much ballyhooed offensive in the past few weeks to hunt down al Qaeda's leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the new tape demonstrates that bin Laden remains untroubled by that offensive and continues to be able to communicate with his followers around the world. Indeed, the audiotape is an almost contemporaneous "proof of life" of bin Laden because on the tape al Qaeda's leader vows revenge for the assassination in Gaza three weeks ago of Hamas leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. Most importantly, the tape seeks to try and drive a wedge between European countries and the United States over the Iraq war, showing that al Qaeda wants to build on the strategic "success" that it enjoyed following the Madrid attacks when the Spanish government announced that it was contemplating withdrawing its troops from Iraq.

The hunt for bin Laden is now back at square one. Bin Laden is not using any form of electronic communication that can be monitored; his immediate followers are not motivated by the fifty million dollar reward on his head, and there is no mole within al Qaeda that has been able to provide real time information about bin Laden whereabouts. At the same time that the hunt for bin Laden has hit a brick wall he, and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, continue to release audiotapes that energize al Qaeda's base and lead to further acts of terrorism. The most reliable guide to al Qaeda's actions are bin Laden's statements, so when he calls for attacks against Americans to avenge the assassination of Sheik Yassin, those attacks will surely happen.

Bin Laden's continued ability to influence al Qaeda's global jihad has been perhaps the gravest failure in the war on terrorism. The 9/11 commission is looking only narrowly into the question of what could, or should, have been done to avert the attacks on Washington and New York, and so the mandate of the inquiry does not extend to investigate how the war on terrorism has been conducted since 9/11. One can only hope, another commission will one day examine the following questions: Why did we let bin Laden slip though our fingers at the battle of Tora Bora in Afghanistan in December 2001? Why did we divert resources from fighting the real war on terrorism in Afghanistan to fight a costly, and, very possibly, counterproductive war in Iraq? And what is our plan to bring Osama bin Laden to justice, beyond statements made by some officials that we will find bin Laden by the end of this year, statements which qualify more as wishful thinking than a real strategy? Unfortunately, right now those questions are not being asked.