Bin Laden death "won’t spark" Afghan retreat

Osama bin Laden was killed in his compound on Sunday in Abbottabad, 60km north of Islamabad in Pakistan Keystone

Jacques Baud, a Swiss security expert, says the killing of Osama bin Laden won't necessarily lead to a speedier withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.

This content was published on May 3, 2011

Baud, who is an author of several books on terrorism, told that the struggle among the loose allegiance of al-Qaeda affiliates will continue with the al-Qaeda name remaining a strong brand as long as the west still uses it.

Bin Laden, accused of ordering the devastating attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, was killed in his hideout in the town of Abbottabad, Pakistan, in a firefight with US special forces on Sunday.

Baud, who currently lives in New York, is the author of several works on terrorism, including the books, The Asymmetric War and Encyclopaedia of Terrorism. How would you describe the atmosphere in New York after the announcement of bin Laden’s death?

Jacques Baud: On the streets, apart from around Ground Zero, there is not been much impact. But if you watch TV his death is seen as a major victory over terrorism.

What is interesting is that it has never been demonstrated that bin Laden was the origin of the 9/11 attacks - this has never been documented. It’s an assumption that has become a truth but there is no solid hard evidence that he was involved and many people in the intelligence community, even here in the US, are very prudent about his personal involvement.

And by focusing on one individual we have forgotten to address the real issues linked to terrorism. People forget why the bombings and attacks were done – the rationale and root causes have been ignored as we focus on one person. Bin Laden's end comes at a time when al-Qaeda’s influence appears to be on the wane in the Arab and wider Islamic world, especially after the recent Arab Spring uprisings. Is this the end of al-Qaeda?

J.B.: The international terrorist organisation al-Qaeda as such has never existed. Al-Qaeda was the name given to the organisation by the US in order to prosecute the individuals involved in the first World Trade Centre bombing in 1993 and the subsequent US embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998.

Al-Qaeda is extremely diverse and not just one organisation, and the extremists’ actions can take different forms. There is no mastermind designing the bombs; they are the result of spontaneous and temporary organisations set up for specific actions.

Since the conflict in Afghanistan evolved into almost a full-scale guerrilla war, al-Qaeda activities have diminished, but not totally. Afghanistan and northern Pakistan have attracted lots of so-called al-Qaeda people; the fight and struggle is still there, but it doesn’t take the same shape as it used to. The US warns of possible revenge attacks. How long could bin Laden's martyrdom last?

J.B.: His recent influence was actually very small. What kept the myth alive was the west; we have been struggling so much and put so much focus on that one person that he suddenly represented something.

For instance the al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) originally had nothing to do with bin Laden’s philosophy or ideology. They used al-Qaeda as a brand name and changed their name. Several other groups in the Middle East have done similar things.

Al-Qaeda will remain a good brand as long as the west uses it. The intelligence-driven operation against Bin Laden received positive political reactions worldwide. But why did it take so long to capture him?

J.B.: Since bin Laden was not involved in any recent terrorist activities it was very difficult to identify him. When tracing terrorists or bombings the main elements you look for are the logistics and chain of command, but if they don’t do anything there are no footprints.

Also, bin Laden was probably surrounded by very close friends and so it was easy for him to keep his movements secret.

And we didn’t look in the right places. We have the same phenomenon in Italy with the big mafia bosses; we look everywhere in the countryside and then find them in the big cities. Could bin Laden's death spark a precipitous US withdrawal from Afghanistan?

J.B.: I don’t think so. His death is a psychological victory rather than an operational one and will have no impact on what’ll happen in Afghanistan.

There is a plan to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and his death will help those in the US Congress who support the idea of a faster withdrawal. But I don’t see any reason to speed up the process. This region is highly unstable and a withdrawal is probably even more important than the way you go in. By pulling out early you may leave it extremely destabilised.

Jacques Baud

Jacques Baud was born in 1955.

He studied economics at the University of Geneva.

After university, Baud worked at the United Nations in New York, where he worked on the elimination of antipersonnel mines and was in charge of security for refugee camps in Zaire (Democratic Republic of Congo).

Baud, a colonel in the Swiss army, worked for Swiss intelligence agencies from 1983 to 1990.

He has written a number of books on security matters and terrorism, including the Encyclopaedia of Information and Secret Services; and the Encyclopaedia of Terrorism (in French).

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US-Swiss post 9/11 cooperation

According to a US cable published by Wikileaks, following the September 11 attacks, Switzerland signed an operative working agreement (OWA) with the US government permitting intensified information-sharing on al-Qaeda. Two FBI agents currently work in Bern at the US embassy facilitating cooperation.

In a 2005 diplomatic cable, Pamela Willeford, US Ambassador to Bern from 2003-2006, wrote, “bilateral law enforcement and intelligence cooperation is improving, but at a gradual pace; Swiss leaders insist that they can address the threat with little outside assistance.”

“The Swiss law enforcement community in general remain reluctant to open up to the United States. The sentiment was expressed best by Justice Minister Blocher to the Ambassador. Blocher said that Switzerland shared America's counterterrorism goals; Switzerland will worry about Switzerland, and the U.S. can worry about the rest of the world.”

In a recent NZZ newspaper interview current US Ambassador Donald Beyer said US-Swiss intelligence cooperation worked well but was “frustrating”.

“In Switzerland privacy is very strict. And if we have information about a suspected terrorist living in Switzerland the authorities are very reserved. You cannot carry out telephone surveillance or observations as the law forbids it. But that’s how it goes,” he commented.

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