Bin Laden's death five years ago was turning point in war on terror

A photograph the White House released after Osama bin Laden was killed by US special forces is certain to go down in history for capturing the moment the US government learned that the al-Qaeda leader was dead.

The photo shows US President Barack Obama sitting to the left of the situation room conference table staring at a monitor providing a live feed of the raid. Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state, holds her hand over her mouth with an expression of shock on her face.

A uniformed member of the US military, his eyes fixed on the scene, has a look of resolute satisfaction.

The photograph freezes the scene in the White House the night when Navy Seals killed bin Laden in his hideout in Pakistan with a shot to the head.

It was May 1, 2011, in the US and May 2 in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where the 53-year-old bin Laden was hiding. The elimination of the most wanted terrorist ever gave Obama an opportunity to draw a line under the so-called war on terror proclaimed by his predecessor, George W Bush.

It also marked a new beginning for the anti-terror fight that involved more cyber ​​warfare and less Guantanamo, or as Obama called it, "a just war." The killing of bin Laden, who had had a 25-million-dollar bounty on his head, was one of the biggest successes of his two terms.

The war on terror had begun 10 years earlier immediately after the September 11, 2001, attacks, which had been orchestrated by bin Laden. His death weakened al-Qaeda structurally and motivationally. It also quenched US thirst for revenge after the terrorist leader spent so many years on the lam.

The order to shoot, believed to have come from Navy Seal Robert O'Neill, remains controversial even today. US forces went into a foreign country and killed a man without a legal basis. Many politicians welcomed the move, but human rights activists were less positive

The US attorney general at the time, Eric Holder, said the operation to kill bin Laden was justified as an act of national defence. The US military quickly disposed of the body at sea in order to deprive bin Laden's followers a place to idolize him.

It's not surprising that conspiracy theories soon developed. The most prominent of them was offered by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh.

Hersh's thesis is that bin Laden lived his early years as a mujahideen fighting the Soviet Union and was familiar to the Pakistani intelligence. He lived at the hideout in Abbottabad - a stronghold of the Pakistani military - for about five years with the knowledge of Pakistani agents and the United States, according to Hersh.

The White House released information that the Seals had to shoot their way to bin Laden, who used one of his wives as a shield. Couriers had led the US forces to the hiding place. But according to Hersh, who quotes retired US military intelligence officials, this story was made up.

There also is no clarity in Pakistan over what happened in what were the early morning hours of May 2, 2011, in Abbottabad. Hersh's theory of the involvement of the Pakistani government does not sound implausible to many Pakistanis. A typical question is: How could the Americans enter the heart of the army apparatus without the army or military intelligence knowing?

The anger of an entire country over the "arrogant invasion of a sovereign country," as it was then called, has mostly dissipated. The notoriously poor relationship between the two countries has actually improved, which five years ago seemed unlikely.

Last update: Tue, 28/06/2016 - 17:25

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