The dearth of information on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden was underscored in the starkest terms in an interview aired over the weekend by George Stephanopoulos with US Defence Secretary Robert Gates. Asked when the last time was the United States had any good intelligence on where Bin Laden is, Gates responded: ‘I think it’s been years.’
I asked Jason Burke, a senior foreign correspondent with the Observer newspaper and author of ‘Al-Qaeda: the true story of radical Islam’, how significant it is that Osama bin Laden has yet to be found. He said:
‘There’s two ways of looking at it: Islamic militancy is a historical phenomenon with roots stretching back decades if not centuries in the Islamic world and in the Islamic world’s relationship with the West. It’s a dynamic, adaptive and extremely diverse phenomenon with a range of fairly evident social, economic, cultural and political causes which will not be affected by the death or capture of bin Laden or similar.
‘That said, if he was removed from the scene it would profoundly change the architecture of modern militancy, removing a key focal point and denying potential young volunteers the psychologically important element of ‘working for bin laden/al-Qaeda’. It would also of course profoundly change American policy, which in itself would have very important strategic effects on modern militancy and obviously a range of other issues.’