Thursday, May 5, 2011

Icon of terror gone, but war remains

IN a daring and clinically lethal operation, they cut Osama bin Laden down right where he lived.The raid marks the passing of a long, bloody decade of war since 9/11.It comes as the great price of treasure and blood - around 6000 US combat deaths and hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths - continues to be paid.Neither the Pakistani Government nor its intelligence agencies - long known for their ongoing lines of communication with Islamic militant groups - knew American boots were setting foot on their soil.That alone is, at least publicly, a first since the wars began.Storming in to the multi-layered luxury compound where Osama was hiding, the SEALs gave him the chance to surrender. When he refused, they blew him away with shots to the head. And at last, the al-Qaida inspiration for the 9/11 attacks lay dead in a pool of his own blood.President Obama and his agency chiefs could not have scripted it better if they'd tried.But, then again, neither could have al-Qaida.
For hardline Islamic militants continuing the holy war, or jihad, bin Laden inflamed, he will forever now be revered as a martyr.It is a dark reality that his death will inevitably be a rallying point.And in death he may be as valuable a symbol to al-Qaida as he was in life.In Iraq in 2004 I was taken to one of their training camps.Too many times I have seen into their eyes, witnessed their work, been taken inside their disciplined and brutishly effective organisation.Bin Laden's slaying is without a doubt a heavy symbolic body blow to the al-Qaida organisation.But when it comes to its ability to continue waging its campaign of attacks and terror, that's all it promises to be: symbolic.The shockwaves reverberating from bin Laden's death - those of unfettered jubilation in the US and those elsewhere in the world - go far beyond questions over the next generation of al-Qaida leadership.

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