Herald Sun: Al-Qa'ida's story is far from over following Osama bin Laden's death

Al-Qa'ida's story is far from over following Osama bin Laden's death

Michael Ware
From: Herald Sun
May 03, 2011 12:00AM

THEY couldn't have done it better - the killing of Osama bin Laden.

In a daring, breathtaking and clinically lethal operation they cut him down right where he lived.

The raid makes the passing of a long, bloody decade of war since 9/11 - about 6000 US combat deaths and hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths.

In August last year US intelligence finally unearthed the lead they'd been so desperately seeking. It allowed them to track and hunt down the masterfully elusive al-Qaida leader in a plush Pakistani mansion.

From a base in war-torn Afghanistan, President Barack Obama unleashed a strike force of elite Navy Seals, teams most certainly filled with the kind of hardened warriors I've come to know in America's wars.

At night the airborne assault choppered across Pakistan's badlands.

The team landed in Abbottabad, 100km outside of the capital Islamabad, deep in to Pakistani soil. Neither the Pakistani Government nor its intelligence agencies - long known for their lines of communication with Islamic militant groups killing American, British and Australian troops - knew American boots were setting foot on their soil.

Storming into the luxury compound where bin Laden was hiding, the Seals gave him the chance to surrender.

When he refused, they blew him away with a shot to the head. And at last, the al-Qa'ida 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.

But, then again, neither could have al-Qa'ida.

For hardline Islamic militants continuing the "holy war", or jihad, bin Laden will be revered as a martyr.

He was not slain with the anonymity of a drone missile strike or, even worse, like Iraq's former dictator Saddam Hussein, captured in disgrace and paraded by America for all to see.

No. Osama went down in a blaze of defiant glory - or so jihard lore will go. Dying as he lived. Fighting the infidels of America to the bitter end. Eschewing surrender and choosing, on his own.

In death he may be as valuable a symbol to al-Qa'ida as he was in life.

I know this because, to some extent and far more than perhaps I would have liked, I know al-Qa'ida.

In Iraq in 2004 I was taken to one of their training camps. Months later I was kidnapped by frenzied al-Qa'ida fighters who readied me for execution beneath one of their banners. The man who was to sever my head was beside me, eager in anticipation. My execution to be filmed on my own camera.

Too many times I have seen into their eyes, witnessed their work, been taken inside their disciplined and brutishly effective organisation. So trust me, at an enormous price that I and my family have and to this day still pay, I know.

At their training camp in an Iraqi village their combat schools were invisible from the air or to an uninitiated eye. Mortar schools were conducted in one house. Sniper training in a barn. Infantry skills in a mosque. And so on.

Even Iraqi insurgents, who'd fought and killed in battles with well-trained American forces, feared them.

"These al-Qa'ida leaders," said one top insurgent commander, "they don't even trust their own clothes. You never know what they're thinking. To be honest, they scare even me."

An unpalatable reality we must prepare for is that an enduring legacy of Osama's life may yet prove to be the manner of his death.

Make no mistake, his slaying is without a doubt a heavy symbolic body blow to the al-Qa'ida 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.

No one in the Pentagon or at the CIA's Virginia headquarters expects it to be anything more.

For al-Qa'ida is an organisation built for loss. Its remarkable ability to regenerate is tested and well-proven.

It has lost foot soldiers, bomb makers, mid-ranking leaders and some of its highest strategic chiefs. Yet it has not laid down. And, in fact, it continues to evolve.

Its strength has never been in its numbers, but in its vision and its ideas.

It has "franchised" its particular brand of Islamic war.

In the wake of bin Laden's death, I suspect al-Qa'ida's story is far from over.

Michael Ware, is an Aussie-born former CNN and Time correspondent.