President Obama made a surprising and dramatic announcement late on Sunday night: terrorist leader Osama bin Laden is dead, and the U.S. military has his body in custody. He was killed by a U.S. military action in Pakistan; the Obama administration has been waiting for DNA confirmation before going public with the news.
Obama, saying that the “images of 9/11 are seared into our national memory,” declared that the United States was “united in our resolve” to bring the perpetrators to justice. “We went to war against al-Qaeda,” he said, “to protect our citizens, our friends, and our allies.”
He said that the killing of bin Laden was the top priority of the war against al-Qaeda. Obama explained that he and his advisors have been following a lead about bin Laden’s whereabouts since last summer, and that he was finally killed in a U.S. military action against his compound.
No U.S. soldiers were killed or injured in the operation. Obama thanked them for their courage and patriotism. He also spoke directly to the families of the many people who died on September 11, saying that the United States has never forgotten the depth of the tragedy.
Obama was clear to say that the United States is not at war against Islam, because bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; indeed, he said, bin Laden was a “mass murderer of Muslims.” His death should be “welcomed,” he said, by anyone who desires peace.
Bin Laden’s death ends a 10-year search since the devastating September 11th attacks; U.S. authorities have sought bin Laden mostly on the mountainous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
It has been almost ten years since terrorist attacks orchestrated by bin Laden on September 11, 2001 killed almost 3,000 people and dramatically altered the United States’ sense of security. Bin Laden’s death was an often-stated goal in early efforts in the “War on Terror,” which resulted in U.S. intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Bin Laden has periodically appeared on videos, often broadcast through Al Jazeera, but has not been a strong leader in al-Qaeda for the past decade, because of the intense focus drawn to him since the September 11 attacks. There has been a $25 million bounty on his head since the attacks.
Even before the president made his statement, the rhetoric around bin Laden’s death was already running high, with commentators announcing that the war on terror is over, and that this event will usher in a new era, both for the U.S. and the Middle East.
Some of the coverage has been troubling and overblown; I heard one commentator describe Afghanistan as a “primitive” place, while others declared that bin Laden single-handedly changed the way we live. Although he’s been symbolically important, we also need to remember that bin Laden has been marginal in al-Qaeda and other terrorist operations since 2001.
Ironically, however, May 1st is also the anniversary of President George W. Bush declaring, incredibly prematurely, “Mission accomplished,” in a 2003 speech from an aircraft carrier. It seems that May 1st will be a much more auspicious day for President Obama.
We’ll keep you posted as the story unfolds and President Obama makes his announcement — but for now, this is clearly a symbolic moment, both for the U.S. and for the world.
Photo from Fotopedia.