Is Osama Bin Laden the Key to Afghanistan?

General Stanley McChrystal calls his capture essential to victory

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During Congressional testimony on Tuesday, General Stanley McChrystal called the capture or killing of Osama bin Laden essential to defeating al-Qaeda and accomplishing demonstrable success in Afghanistan. "It would not defeat al Qaeda to have him captured or killed, but I don't think we can finally defeat al Qaeda until he is finally captured or killed," he said.

Bin Laden is thought be across the border in Pakistan, although one report by a Taliban detainee claimed he was in the U.S. (Secretary of Defense Robert Gates shrugged off that report, saying there had been no good intelligence on bin Laden's location in "years.") The focus on extremism in general and al-Qaeda in particular is not unusual, but McChrystal's emphasis on bin Laden specifically has raised eyebrows. Pundits seem to worry that American strategy is overly focusing on securing one man.

  • End The Search Time's Robert Baer insists it's a waste of time given our non-existent intel. "[B]in Laden may not in fact be living in the mountains along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. For all we know, he could just as easily be in Pakistan's Baluchistan province, another piece of Pakistan outside the writ of Pakistan's government and NATO forces. Or he could be in Somalia or, who knows, some remote island off Indonesia. [...] If his security is as good as it appears to be, even a door-to-door search of every house in Pakistan's tribal regions would produce nothing." Baer, a former CIA official, cites an old colleague who, like him, suspects likely bin Laden died years ago.
  • The Case For Letting Him Go The Weekly Standard's Michael Goldfarb asks on Global Post, "Whatever the reason for the latest round of where's Osama, how is it possible that eight years after 9/11, with billions of dollars spent using the most sophisticated spying equipment in the world, not to mention drones and special forces scouring his likely hiding places, does nobody have the remotest idea of how to find him?" Goldfarb speculates of Pakistan and the U.S., "Do any of the countries pursuing the man want to kill him? Yes, of course. But do they want to own his execution and provide pictorial proof of death, thus giving an image to the world that would replace Che Guevara on a billion T-shirts, not to mention painting a target on themselves for the rest of the century?"
  • Wouldn't Change Much Hot Air's Allahpundit shrugs, "McChrystal's point is that so long as Osama's free to inspire, there'll always be some soft-headed jihadbot willing to take up his cause. Which may be so. But isn't the perennial argument against executing these turds that it'll only make martyrs of them? Thanks to the Internet, Bin Laden will still be doing plenty of inspiring long after he's gone (assuming he isn't gone already)." He adds of McChrystal, "why acknowledge [the importance of killing bin Laden] when he knows that anti-war types will hold it over his head?"
  • Shaky Legal Ground Conservative law blogger Kenneth Anderson worries. "Candidate Obama said he would go into Pakistan -- no mention of consent -- in order to go after Al Qaeda and Bin Laden. The administration now seems to be signaling its willingness to go in with more forces, and overtly military forces, partly in pursuit of Al Qaeda," he writes. "What about consent by Pakistan as a legal matter? Much of the international law community would say that without it, or without a Security Council authorization, such incursion is prohibited, except possibly under some narrow 'hot pursuit' or a few other limited exceptions." However, Anderson argues that Obama could--and should--find other legal justification for entering "safe havens" in Pakistan.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.