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A Times Editorial

Persistence and courage

The world is a bit safer and less evil with Osama bin Laden dead. The effort that resulted in U.S. forces killing the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks after nearly a decade of searching is a reminder to the world of America's courage and persistence in pursuing our enemies and protecting our freedoms. Bin Laden's death on Sunday will not bring back the 3,000 innocents killed that terrible day in 2001, but it provides some sense of justice. It will not snuff out al-Qaida or end terrorism, but it reinforces that this nation remains committed to the long, difficult and enormously painful job of lessening the scourge of terror on democracy.

Details of Sunday's daring raid are still being confirmed. But the operation was as much a tribute to the skills of U.S. security forces as it was a rebuke of Pakistan's commitment to bring to justice a mass murderer who operated from within its borders. U.S. officials said the break came in August, after American spies tracing the comings and goings of a senior al-Qaida courier began focusing on a fortified mansion they suspected to be bin Laden's hideout. After months of planning, President Barack Obama ordered the raid on Friday. A small band of U.S. forces landed on the compound by helicopter Sunday and killed bin Laden after he reportedly resisted the attacking commandos. The American team suffered no casualties. Authorities said bin Laden was positively identified, taken to a U.S. warship and buried at sea.

Bin Laden's death marks a debilitating symbolic blow to a terrorist network already badly shaken by the killing of senior commanders by U.S.-operated drones, fragmentation in the ranks and an improved global capability to stave off attacks. But while bin Laden is gone, al-Qaida is not. Nor is the larger threat from other terrorist groups. And the circumstances of Sunday's operation raise serious questions about whether Pakistan is truly a partner in fighting terror across that volatile region. The home where bin Laden was found is only 35 miles north of Pakistan's capital, adjacent to a Pakistani military base and in a suburb teeming with military retirees. U.S. intelligence kept watch on the house for months. And when Obama ordered the assault team in, he did so without informing Pakistani authorities. Given the circumstances, such secrecy was appropriate.

Rather than dwell on Pakistan's failures and its frayed relationship with the United States, Obama appropriately emphasized its modest assistance in tracking bin Laden. Perhaps now Pakistan's intelligence and security services have some flexibility to move more aggressively against the Taliban and other extremists with bin Laden dead. And the United States has a security interest in bolstering the civilian leadership of a nuclear-armed Pakistan.

The families of those killed or injured in the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. embassy bombings in Africa, the attack on the USS Cole and other al-Qaida-linked terror operations can take some comfort that the United States never gave up in tracking down the man responsible for the loss of so many lives. Obama's somber announcement late Sunday night that bin Laden had been found and killed is the bookend to the moving image of President George W. Bush holding a bullhorn at ground zero amid the smoldering debris of the World Trade Center and declaring: "I can hear you! I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people — and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!"

Soon turned out to be nearly a decade, but through American resolve and persistence that message has been delivered.

Persistence and courage 05/02/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 3, 2011 2:04am]
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