CAMDEN, Maine — Two retired State Department officials now living in Maine said Monday that the weekend raid that killed the long-sought terrorist leader was most surprising because of where it took place.
“This was a very difficult raid deep inside Pakistan,” said Laurence Pope of Portland, a former associate director for counterterrorism and political adviser to the commander-in-chief of the U.S. Central Command. “The president ordered it, knowing that if something went wrong, he would be held accountable. It took a good deal of political courage. And it’s remarkable.”
Pope said in a telephone interview that the location of Osama bin Laden’s hideout in the city of Abbotabad, very close to the country’s military college, could further tangle America’s already complicated relationship with Pakistan.
“It is inconceivable to me that [the president] could have been doing that without the knowledge of the Pakistanis,” Pope said, emphasizing that he has no official knowledge of the events. “It’s been a forced marriage of convenience, really, between the two countries. … I think this can only increase the level of distrust.”
Fred Hill of Arrowsic, a former foreign correspondent and State Department official, established the first war gaming office in the department and conducted policy planning exercises on foreign affairs and other issues from 1986 to 2006.
“It’s a tribute to the special forces and intelligence community who have pursued it for so long,” he said of bin Laden’s death. “It closes one chapter. But it certainly doesn’t even undercut the threat of extremist terrorism.”
In some ways, Hill said, bin Laden’s death might be considered by some as more symbolic now, as al-Qaida’s leadership has been “degraded” over the years because of constant intelligence pressure and operational efforts.
But it’s more than just a symbol, according to the retired official.
“It certainly goes beyond the psychological and symbolic because he really was viewed as a source of leadership,” Hill said.
Pope easily dismissed the conspiracy theories that had already taken root in the dozen or so hours since the White House announced bin Laden was dead. Some people might believe that the episode was faked, he said, but that doesn’t make it true.
“Considering the number of people that would have to be involved in a conspiracy of that kind, ask yourself if it’s even remotely plausible,” he said. “It’s absurd.”
He said that while some might have wished the al-Qaida leader to be taken into custody alive, many over the last 9½ years in the government have thought the best thing would be if he resisted and was killed.
“It’s the best outcome,” Pope said.