Editorial: Hunt for Bin Laden


Saturday  March 6, 2004

Arab News Editorial

APPARENTLY credible reports from Afghanistan say that Pakistani troops came close to catching Osama Bin Laden during their recent border sweep. Afghan and US special forces are now said to have refocused their attention around the Tora Bora cave complex from which it is thought that Bin Laden was driven along with Mulla Omar in the final stages of the Taleban’s overthrow.

No information emerging from this shadowy contest of bluff and counterbluff can be taken at face value. The hunters may want the Al-Qaeda chief to believe they are hunting him around Tora Bora so that he will perhaps betray his suspected position elsewhere. But regardless of the veracity of the latest intelligence, it serves to concentrate our attention on the day when Bin Laden is finally run to ground.

There was a time when it seemed that Saddam Hussein and his two sons had disappeared into thin air and were freely conducting the deadly terrorist campaign against the occupying forces and Iraqis working with them. Then last July Uday and Qusay Hussein were killed in a gunbattle at their Mosul hideout. Five months later their father was found in a hole in the ground at a farm outside the family’s hometown of Tikrit. The Iraqi’s nightmare return of an invincible Saddam had ended.

It is possible that Bin Laden is no less cut off and powerless than was the Iraqi dictator. But there are lessons to be learned from Saddam’s capture. In the hours following his discovery, the US forces dared to hope that the violence in Iraq would now peter out. It did not. In response to Saddam’s capture, the killers redoubled their attacks.

Thus it must be accepted that the capture or slaying of Bin Laden will also have no immediate effect on the destructive campaign of Al-Qaeda. The organization he created has already demonstrated its ability to function without the central command structure that existed in the Taleban’s Afghanistan and planned the Sept. 11 attacks. Free or in prison, dead or alive, Bin Laden will remain a potent force for the fanatics who have subscribed to his creed of hate and violence.

The search for him is therefore not simply the hunt for a criminal. Once that hunt is ended, there will be a great deal more work to be done to root out the rest of the Al-Qaeda networks around the globe. This is not to say that when Bin Laden’s terrorist career is ended, there will not be despair among his supporters. But in Al-Qaeda, Bin Laden unleashed a merciless bigotry and fanaticism which, in the short term at least, will probably cause its members to redouble their attacks. But in the long run the “war against terror” is one that the terrorists cannot hope to win.


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