Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Osama Bin Laden killed

The Methodist Church has today issued a statement to the Methodist Recorder on the killing of Osama Bin Laden. I may blog later on the implications of Osama’s elimination for future US policy in Afghanistan and would be keen to hear your views.

It seems that in September of last year US intelligence were reasonably sure that they had identified the likely whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden. The United States had the choice of continuing to monitor him or attempting to capture/kill him. President Obama ultimately made decision to attempt a Special Forces raid.

Other military options were considered but declined.  They included the use of B-52 bombers to deliver GPS-guided precision missiles and the use of unmanned aerial drones to deliver slightly more precise missiles. Unmanned drones have become the method of choice of the US military in operations in Northern Pakistan. Several Al-Qaida and Taliban leaders have been assassinated by US drones, each aircraft controlled by three operators from a control centre in Nevada. In the operation against Osama Bin Laden the US administration decided against a drone strike for obvious reasons: - 1) it was important to ensure that Osama Bin Laden could be identified and solid evidence obtained of his demise, 2) drone strikes in Pakistan come with some political cost as they are legally highly questionable and frequently involve civilian deaths, 3) to defend the action as ‘just’ it was necessary to carry out an operation that could have resulted in Bin Laden’s arrest and trial.

The use of special forces to execute a commando raid involved huge risks. The unsuccessful attempt to rescue US hostages from Iran in 1980 was arguably the nail in the coffin for Jimmy Carter’s presidency. Given the difficulties that Obama has in the US at the moment this weekend’s raid entailed huge risks for his own presidency. He will now reap the benefit of more domestic “street cred” resulting from the perceived success of the operation.

Meanwhile the continuing US forces’ illegal use of drones is highly unpopular in Pakistan. These strikes are thought to have killed 2,300 people since 2004. Some would put the civilian death toll at 90%. See this article for example,   Is there not a glaring inconsistency between the military action that is authorised in Libya to protect civilians, and the civilian death toll resulting from the ‘easy’ option favoured by the US military in their battle against Al-Qaida and Taliban operatives in Pakistan?

I raise this question now as this might be an appropriate time to reflect on tactics and use of force in action to counter the threat of terrorism.

For more on the illegal use of drones see Fellowship of Reconciliation’s campaign.