I selected the 2011 Bin Laden prediction for two reasons: 1) a really smart person I know brought it up a couple years back and I found no one had a good answer to what would happen post-Bin Laden and 2) there remains a certain undertone within US policy that the Afghanistan conflict’s ultimate goal is getting Bin Laden and subsequently eliminating AQ Central’s AF/PAK safe haven.
The Afghanistan invasion originally pursued one central objective: destroy al Qaeda and its leader Usama Bin Laden. Bin Laden’s escape to Pakistan resulted in the Afghanistan campaign morphing into a perennial low intensity battle with countryside tribesmen and a nation-building quagmire in Kabul. Almost ten years later, these two drifting sub-objectives have distracted the U.S. from its original ambitions resulting in my question embedded in a prophecy: does Bin Laden really matter anymore? The answer to this question, I believe, informs current U.S. policy decisions on the future direction of counterterrorism.
To answer the “does Bin Laden matter?” issue, I posed three questions in two different polls. The poll placed with the initial “Does Bin Laden Matter?” post queried readers of this blog to provide their opinions (open poll). I then posed the same questions to a select group of terrorism/counterterrorism experts I know and respect to gauge their reactions to the same set of three questions (internal poll). The following several posts will recap the results of these two polls and provide further discussion for dissecting the appropriate direction of future U.S. policy in AF/PAK and globally with regard to terrorism.
Today’s post shows the open poll (placed on this website, 32 voters) and compares it with the internal poll (CT experts I queried, 20 voters). Here is the side by side comparison of these two groups for question #1 from the “Does Bin Laden Matter?” post. Of the fourteen options offered respondents, only seven options were chosen in either poll. Note, there is likely duplication of the respondents at times as some that responded to my internal poll also responded to the open poll.
In both polls, a large number of respondents believe Bin Laden’s death will have no significant impact on AQ and the larger jihadi movement. Meanwhile, the two groups of respondents disagreed considerably over Zawahiri’s future. A large portion of the readers on this blog (open poll) believed Zawahiri would replace Bin Laden. The internal poll (expert group) saw Zawahiri as far less significant instead believing a new AF/PAK based member of AQ will emerge as the leader. For the internal poll, both Bin Laden and Zawahiri appear to be irrelevant for the future of AQ. Yet, our strategy against AQ focuses considerably on capturing or killing these two individuals. I’ll return to this key point after I publish the results of the next two poll questions.
I also wanted to examine the expert group and see if experts from different points of view see the Bin Laden question differently. I coded the experts surveyed based on their current job responsibilities in government, military, academia, law enforcement or the private sector. Many have served in one or more of these sectors so I coded them based solely on their current responsibilities. It’s not perfect, but here are the results. Overall, the results appear fairly even across all sectors surveyed.