Beyond confirming that Bin Laden was actually the person killed in Abottabad, what is the significance of troops being on the ground to conduct the Bin Laden Operation? Can their presence lead us to the new #1 in al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri?
In the coming days we will likely hear about the gathering of “pocket litter” and other exploitable intelligence and there will probably be some speculation about where that intelligence may lead us. Given that the U.S. has surveilled the Bin Laden compound for a few months, we likely know quite a bit about the comings and goings of couriers and others who may lead us to Zawahiri. Moreover, unless this operation was time sensitive (which it doesn’t sound like) we can expect that U.S. forces would not have conducted the operation without already planning for the next operation — the one leading to Zawahiri. Of course, if we knew where Zawahiri was we would have conducted simultaneous operations. The fact that we didn’t likely means that we were hoping to exploit intelligence to be found inside the Bin Laden compound. The value of that intelligence gathered on the objective will determine whether Zawahiri’s days are best measured in weeks, months, or longer.
Greg McNeal is a professor and national security specialist focusing on the institutions and challenges associated with global security, with substantive expertise in national security law and policy, transnational crime, global policy studies, and international affairs.
He teaches at Pepperdine University's School of Law and School of Public Policy.
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