The United States aims to build on its killing of Osama bin Laden to destroy his al-Qaida terrorist organisation, the White House counterterrorism chief said today.
John Brennan declared the administration was determined to “pummel the rest of al-Qaida” as the US moves on from the Navy SEAL raid that killed bin Laden in a surprise attack on his compound not far from Islamabad, the Pakistan capital.
Mr Brennan said the al-Qaida organisation had suffered “severe body blows” during the 10-year US-led war in Afghanistan.
US President Barack Obama, who gave the final orders for the raid on Sunday, has vowed to begin withdrawing some American forces from Afghanistan this summer.
Mr Obama plans to visit the site of the former World Trade Centre in New York on Thursday to mark the killing of bin Laden and remember the nearly 3,000 who were killed in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.
The United States, under then-President George Bush, invaded Afghanistan later that year hoping to eliminate the al-Qaida sanctuary provided by the militant Taliban government then controlling the country.
Bin Laden and his top lieutenants were believed to have fled to neighbouring Pakistan as US forces swept the Taliban from power.
Until Sunday, however, bin Laden had escaped capture.
In an appearance on NBC television, Mr Brennan said “clearly there was some kind of support network” for bin Laden inside Pakistan. He declined to blame the Pakistani government for that, calling Islamabad “a strong counterterrorism partner”.
But he also said the Pakistani government is conducting its own investigation into how bin Laden dodged authorities for so long. Mr Brennan said it is “unknown at this point” whether individuals inside the Pakistani government were helping bin Laden.
Details of the mission that killed bin Laden continued to filter out from US officials, meanwhile, with one saying the Americans had still-secret photos of the dead bin Laden with a precision kill shot above his left eye.
A US official said the 40-minute raid on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad netted potentially crucial al-Qaida records as well as the body of the global terrorist leader. The assault team came away with hard drives, DVDs, documents and more that might tip US intelligence to al-Qaida’s operational details and perhaps lead the manhunt to the presumed next-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri. The CIA are already going over the material.
Mr Obama approved the operation against bin Laden’s Pakistan redoubt and witnessed its progression from the White House Situation Room.
The administration weighed whether to release photos of bin Laden’s corpse and video of his swift burial at sea. Officials were reluctant to inflame Islamic sentiment by showing graphic images of the body. But they were also eager to address the mythology already building in Pakistan and beyond that bin Laden was still alive.
Bin Laden had lived at the fortified compound for six years, officials said, putting him far from the lawless and harsh Pakistani frontier where he had been assumed to be hiding out.