"When John McCain said we could just 'muddle through' in Afghanistan, I argued for more resources and more troops to finish the fight against the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11, and made clear that we must take out Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants if we have them in our sights. John McCain likes to say that he'll follow bin Laden to the gates of hell--but he won't even go to the cave where he lives."--Sen. Barack Obama, Democratic National Convention speech, Aug. 28, 2008
Here we see the unconvincing, ballswaggering Obama during the campaign (unconvincing to at least to 46% of voters), when he was lecturing those pussies Bush and Cheney and McCain to stop dicking around in Iraq and to send large quantities of special forces into Pakistan to take out Bin Laden and"finish the fight." Finish the fight? He had no idea then who we are at war with and still doesn't. Flash forward a few months and we have this:
"I think that we have to so weaken his infrastructure that, whether he is technically alive or not, he is so pinned down that he cannot function. My preference obviously would be to capture or kill him. But if we have so tightened the noose that he's in a cave somewhere and can't even communicate with his operatives, then we will meet our goal of protecting America."--President-elect Barack Obama, CBS News interview, Jan. 14, 2009
Well. See what a few intelligence briefings can do for you. One could say that Obama has "grown in office," even though he hasn't yet taken the office. At least we can rest easy now that Obama seems to be backing off his campaign pledge to invade nuclear armed Pakistan. Obama still evidences a fatal understanding of our mortal enemy.
He remains untutored on some basic principles of enemy management. First, he seems to conflate the battle against the Taliban and the battle against Al Qaeda. Focusing just on Bin Laden here, to the extent that Bin Laden is "technically" alive, and to the extent that a thorough delousing of his cave complex is not yet practicable, it would not do to completely tighten the noose and shut him off from his operatives. Yes, we all want to see Bin Laden captured, brought to the US and taken on a magical mystery tour through our legal system for years and years until he is finally sentenced to death, a sentence that can't be taken against him because by then all forms of capital punishment will be deemed cruel and unusual, so he'll sit in Super Max next to other "lost souls."
So, if you know you have not killed the leader and the enemy has not revealed a new leader, then they will continue to look to and continue a method of communication with the leader to ensure they are acting by his design. (And anyone pretending to be Bin Laden needs the same dynamic to work for him or he's out of job). Generally, Al Qeada is a cell based movement characterised by centralized decision making and decentralized execution. To the extent that they believe Bin Laden is alive, then it is in our interests to allow lines of communication to stay open for a number of reasons. First, to ensure a thorough understanding of the extent and scope of the network and its functions. Second, to forestall the development of strong leadership among the mainline cells in Western capitals and the self-starters in places like Iraq. We need them to be nervous nellies, afraid to make bold moves without hearing what Uncle Binny has to say. If Bin Laden is believed to be dead, then it implies a leadership vacuum which, while creating the impression of dislocation and chaos in the organization, actually makes the practice of rolling it up more difficult as splinter cells form and diverge and perhaps choose to concentrate on more generalized mayhem as opposed to putting on a big show. Al Qaeda is big on big attacks, which by design take longer to plan and leave more opportunity for discovery. Ironic, but their big attack philosophy is a key weakness for them as far as preventing discovery. Our craft has changed considerably since 2001. Third, the decentralization of execution causes delay as these big attacks must be green-lighted from the cave. Cells scrambling to maintain long lines of communication are more likely to reveal themselves and allow us to interdict them where they matter - well away from the caves of Waziristan.
Perhaps that's next Wednesday's morning briefing.