The South Asia Channel

Daily brief: Bin Laden was unarmed: U.S.

Click: one stop shopping for the AfPak Channel’s coverage of the death of Osama bin Laden (FP). Event notice: tomorrow at 6:30pm EST in New York, Peter Bergen will discuss what’s next for al-Qaeda (Asia Society). The event will also be webcast. Bergen will write an account of the search for bin Laden, tentatively titled ...

Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images

Click: one stop shopping for the AfPak Channel's coverage of the death of Osama bin Laden (FP).

Event notice: tomorrow at 6:30pm EST in New York, Peter Bergen will discuss what's next for al-Qaeda (Asia Society). The event will also be webcast. Bergen will write an account of the search for bin Laden, tentatively titled The Manhunt (NYT).

Corrections for the record

Click: one stop shopping for the AfPak Channel’s coverage of the death of Osama bin Laden (FP).

Event notice: tomorrow at 6:30pm EST in New York, Peter Bergen will discuss what’s next for al-Qaeda (Asia Society). The event will also be webcast. Bergen will write an account of the search for bin Laden, tentatively titled The Manhunt (NYT).

Corrections for the record

The White House, revising its initial account, said yesterday that al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was not armed when he was killed in a U.S. operation in Abbottabad, Pakistan early on May 2, and did not use his wife, who did not die in the raid, as a human shield (NYT, Tel, Politico, Guardian, CNN, Post, AFP, AJE, Post). The White House said bin Laden "resisted" when a team of Navy SEALs burst into the upper floors of the Abbottabad compound, and died "almost certainly — from a bullet to the head." U.S. officials said the commandos carrying out the operation expected bin Laden would be killed, rather than captured, though Obama administration counterterrorism chief John Brennan said he could have surrendered "if he did not pose any type of threat whatsoever" (CBS, Reuters, LAT). 

In addition to bin Laden, the SEALs carried off a trove of computers, hard drives, and digital storage devices that American intelligence analysts are now combing over for clues about the location of al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri, other terrorists, and ongoing plots (WSJ, Independent, Times, CBS, CNN, Post, Politico). Officials said when bin Laden was found in the Abbottabad compound, he was not trying to destroy data, and "It appears they were more interested in fighting their way out than destroying anything."

The White House is currently debating whether to release photographs of bin Laden’s body, which administration spokesman Jay Carney described as "gruesome" (CBS, CNN, Post). The U.S. has also heightened security measures at public spaces across the country in anticipation of attacks designed to prove al-Qaeda is still relevant and potent following the death of its leader (NYT, WSJ). The NYT’s survey of books to read about al-Qaeda is available here (NYT).

Friends or foes?

Pakistan’s foreign ministry released a sharp statement yesterday criticizing the Abbottabad raid as "unauthorized unilateral action," and Pakistani officials continued to reject claims that the Pakistani military or intelligence services knew bin Laden was living in the military garrison city some 40 miles from the capital (NYT, Dawn, WSJ, ET, Post, Guardian, DT, AP). C.I.A. chief Leon Panetta, who summarized, "Either they’re involved or incompetent," said Pakistan was not told in advance about the raid because "they might alert the targets," and the first time Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari learned bin Laden was dead was reportedly from a phone call from U.S. president Barack Obama at 1:15am local time the morning of the operation (Time, FT, The News, LAT, Post, Time). Obama administration officials have demanded that Pakistan provide information about the compound, witnesses, and bin Laden’s relatives who survived the raid.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry also said that the relatives, including a 12 or 13 year old daughter who reportedly saw her father killed by U.S. forces, would be returned to their countries of origin after being interrogated by Pakistani intelligence (WSJ, Reuters, McClatchy). Bin Laden’s wife, who was wounded when she "rushed one of the U.S. assaulters," has been identified as Amal Amhed Abdul Fatah, his youngest wife and supposed favorite (ABC, The News). One of bin Laden’s neighbors in Abbottabad was arrested several hours after the raid and the owner of the land on which the compound was built has also been detained, while other residents continue to profess surprise that bin Laden was living in their midst (AFP, ET, AP, FT, Post, NYT, ABC). One neighbor said that when children playing in nearby fields lost a ball inside the compound, the owners gave them money for a new one rather than let them retrieve it.  

In cities across Pakistan yesterday, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the front organization for the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, held funeral prayers for bin Laden (DT, ET, Reuters). The head of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, an anti-Shia militant organization, and other Islamist leaders condemned the raid as a violation of Pakistani sovereignty and called bin Laden a martyr (ET). Analysts are debating the impact of bin Laden’s death on al-Qaeda and its affiliates, including its active Yemeni branch, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Reuters, Times).

Across the border

After "nearly two days of unusual silence," the Taliban in Afghanistan questioned the news of bin Laden’s death, generating debate among analysts, Taliban fighters, and government officials about the significance of the group’s response (AP, McClatchy, Reuters, WSJ, Pajhwok). A spokesman for the Afghan defense ministry said Pakistan should have known bin Laden was living near a military academy, and called into question Pakistan’s ability to protect its nuclear arsenal (Reuters, AP).

Rajiv Chandrasekaran reports that although challenges remain, some U.S. officials are trying to use the death of bin Laden "to accelerate a negotiated settlement with the Taliban and hasten the end of the Afghanistan war," with one commenting that this "is the beginning of the endgame in Afghanistan. It changes everything" (Post). Nearly half of Americans surveyed say they are more confident in the U.S. mission in Afghanistan following bin Laden’s death, and Obama saw a jump in his approval ratings after the Abbottabad raid (Post, NYT).

And a NATO airstrike in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province reportedly killed up to eight private security guards with the Watan Risk Management company (AP, Pajhwok).

Credit where it’s due?

Gary Faulkner, the sword-wielding Osama bin Laden hunter, said he will ask the U.S. government for a portion of the $27 million reward (ABC, Fox, Greeley Tribune). Faulkner asserted, "I had a major hand and play in this wonderful thing, getting him out of the mountains and down to the valleys… Someone had to get him out of there. That’s where I came in."

Sign up here to receive the daily brief in your inbox. Follow the AfPak Channel on Twitter and Facebook.

More from Foreign Policy

Volker Perthes, U.N. special representative for Sudan, addresses the media in Khartoum, Sudan, on Jan. 10.

Sudan’s Future Hangs in the Balance

Demonstrators find themselves at odds with key U.N. and U.S. mediators.

In an aerial view, traffic creeps along Virginia Highway 1 after being diverted away from Interstate 95 after it was closed due to a winter storm.

Traffic Jams Are a Very American Disaster

The I-95 backup shows how easily highways can become traps.

Relatives and neighbors gather around a burned vehicle targeted and hit by an American drone strike in Kabul.

The Human Rights vs. National Security Dilemma Is a Fallacy

Advocacy organizations can’t protect human rights without challenging U.S. military support for tyrants and the corrupt influence of the defense industry and foreign governments.

un-sanctions-inspectors-china-foreign-policy-illustration

The Problem With Sanctions

From the White House to Turtle Bay, sanctions have never been more popular. But why are they so hard to make work?