The Long Road to Osama

You can’t escape the major news item today: Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces in a raid over the weekend. The headlines came up quickly, but the operation was very long in the making. Intelligence officials had been on the trail of bin Laden’s closest courier for years, and in August they tracked him to Abbottabad, Pakistan. Over the last month and a half, as officials became more certain of their intel, President Obama held meetings with his national-security team. They had five in total, with the last this past Friday morning. Obama sat down with National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, chief counterterrorism adviser John Brennan and others to finalize the plans for the raid.

The team also gathered around President Obama as he announced bin Laden’s death late last night. VP Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, CIA Director Leon Panetta, DNI James Clapper and Donilon all watched Obama’s statement in the White House’s East Room. Today, Panetta issued a statement congratulating the CIA on their work to hunt down the al-Qaeda mastermind. He cited the “outstanding expertise, amazing creativity and excellent tradecraft” of Agency employees.

And U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry attempted to reassure the Afghan people that the death of bin Laden does not mean the end of America’s commitment to Afghanistan: “This victory will not mark the end of our effort against terrorism. America's strong support for the people of Afghanistan will continue as before.” Afghan President Hamid Karzai meanwhile directed attention to Afghanistan’s neighbor, arguing that the location of bin Laden’s mansion outside of Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, shows that “the fight against terrorism is not in Afghan villages and houses.” After praising the raid that killed bin Laden, he called on the international community to “stop bombarding Afghan villages and searching Afghan people.” Just last week, Marc Grossman, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, left for a visit to Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Saudi Arabia. His trip was in part meant to “emphasize the US commitment to long-term, enduring partnerships with both Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

The conflict in Libya is still pressing onward, and Secretary Clinton is set to go to Rome this week for a meeting of the Libya Contact Group. Officials are expected to discuss how to support the rebels (including supplying arms) and how to protect civilians. Jeffrey Feltman, assistant secretary for Near East affairs, and Philip Gordon, assistant secretary for Europe and Eurasian affairs, will travel to Italy with Clinton.

And as David Petraeus, the commander of forces in Afghanistan, prepares to step into Panetta’s CIA shoes, the White House has chosen a replacement for the general. Lt. Gen. John Allen will take over for Petraeus, the first time a Marine has been in charge in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Allen brought an understanding of the consequences of military action to the operation in Iraq and was one of the architects of the Anbar Awakening, which helped draw Sunni leaders away from insurgency and to the American side.