9/11 was one of those “where the heck were you when you heard” moments in history; the Twin Towers attacked, reports coming out that the Pentagon had been hit, another plane reportedly hijacked and heading towards the White House (presumably).
The news that Osama bin Laden was killed yesterday in Pakistan nearly 10 years later is certain to be another.
Hell, it’s a moment some thought would never come.
Almost a year ago, CIA director Leon Panetta said it had been almost a decade since the agency had “precise information” on bin Laden’s whereabouts, but that he was in the tribal areas of Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.
Eight months ago, unbeknownst to most of us, intel operatives started zeroing in on the al Qaeda figurehead President Obama said Sunday.
We now know how the intel community’s good fortunes changed in those two months, when they firmly placed the world’s most wanted man in their crosshairs. A hot tip from here, follow a courier there, see a suspicious compound and BLAM…gotcha.
But now we should consider the questions to be answered as the world reacts to bin Laden’s death:
Just how did that American special operations team swoop in on bin Laden’s million-dollar compound in a wealthy suburb south of the Pakistani capital Islamabad, a neighborhood that is home to numerous retired military leaders?
Did the U.S. forces take off from bases in Afghanistan or Pakistan? How cooperative was the Pakistani government in targeting bin Laden? How and why, and for how long, was bin Laden able to live in a mansion outside the Pakistani capital?
Will the Special Forces involved be publicly recognized for the successful op?
Many followers of this conflict assumed that, if he was still alive, bin Laden would be moving among caves in the mountainous border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Panetta said as much last summer.
But now that we know better, will the lush residence he died in rob bin Laden of any kind of martyrdom among poor, disaffected Muslims?
How will this affect the resolve of al Qaeda members and other Islamist extremists worldwide? Is a wave of reactionary attacks already in the works?
What is Mullah Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban (who is believed to be in Quetta, Pakistan, just across the border from Kandahar), going to do?
Did al Qaeda have a particular attack up his sleeve for such an occasion?
Does this matter to Afghanistan?
Are the rank-and-file Taliban considering this development as they kick off their fighting season, a development that is worlds apart from the Afghan province or district for which they are fighting for?
Most of the insurgents are homegrown. At this point do they even care about the death of a foreign jihadist, no matter how prominent, whose machinations brought NATO forces to their homeland in the first place?
How will bin Laden’s death affect the revolutions sweeping the Arab streets this year?
So many questions and so many uncertainties to be uncovered in the coming days.
Still, the man responsible for the death of nearly 3,000 souls on Sept. 11, 2001, is walking the earth no more. Military operations in Afghanistan and worldwide will indeed continue, but to borrow one from Joe Biden…this is a big fuckin’ deal.