May 16, 2011 | Politico
More pressure on Pakistan? What about Yemen?
The U.S. special ops strike that killed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the most wanted man in the world, during a daring raid deep inside Pakistan, is a major victory against the terrorist group. The death of bin Laden, who took the lives of thousands of Americans in a campaign lasting almost 20 years, has sparked waves of euphoria across the United States and large crowds in Washington and New York. Al Qaeda’s supporters are in shock over bin Laden’s death, with some online jihadists bemoaning it, and others refusing to believe the news.
Bin Laden’s death comes at a crucial time in the war in Afghanistan, as the U.S. seeks to wind down its operations there and relations with Pakistan have hit at an all-time low. The temptation for the U.S. to declare “mission accomplished” and disengage from the region will be intense, and many see killing or capturing bin Laden as the ultimate victory in the war on terror.
Based on preliminary reports of the raid, one thing is clear: Pakistan is not the ally many U.S. officials expect it to be. According to The Washington Post and other news outlets, the U.S. did not take the Pakistanis into confidence on the raid until it was well underway and could not be stopped. They allowed the U.S. to get bin Laden only when they were backed into a corner and left with no other choice.
Bin Laden’s safe house was a heavily fortified, $1 million mansion in the heart of Abbottabad, far from Pakistan’s tribal areas. It is difficult to believe that bin Laden could shelter there without the complicity of Pakistan’s military and intelligence services.
For years, the Pakistani military apparatus has captured and sequestered Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders, turning some over to the United States, but maintaining others in its inventory. The Pakistanis continue to work at cross-purposes with the U.S. as it attempts to capture or kill top Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the Pakistanis have shaken Washington down for more than $10 billion in aid. The U.S. has responded by increasing aid to Pakistan while top military officials attempt to coax the Pakistani military into attacking terrorist havens in the tribal areas. In effect, the U.S. has reinforced Pakistan's duplicitous behavior.
The U.S. remains in a bind with regards to its mission in Afghanistan and its relationship with Pakistan. More than 70 percent of NATO’s supplies into land-locked Afghanistan move through Pakistan, and without Pakistani support, NATO would not be able to maintain a force of more than 100,000 troops in country.
But a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan would cede a major propaganda victory to Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and terrorist safe havens in that country would only increase. The U.S. needs to maintain a presence in Afghanistan to deny those safe havens to Al Qaeda and its allies. And a U.S. presence in Afghanistan will also allow intelligence agencies to keep an eye on the terror networks in Pakistan and strike when needed. After all, Pakistan remains home to other top Al Qaeda leaders, including bin Laden’s likely successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Only a friendly Afghan government backed by the United States can keep Pakistan in line, and bring about the conditions necessary for a U.S. withdrawal.