The conviction is growing in intelligence circles that Usama bin Laden’s days might be numbered, but his demise will likely have nothing to do with Bush Administration efforts to kill him, which continue to be inept, unfocused, and overly reliant on allies like Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to do the heavy lifting. Many officers within the counterterrorism community are beginning to question some basic assumptions about al-Qaeda and how great a threat it continues to represent. The internal debate has been revealed by Steve Coll, who has authored a best settler on the bin Ladens (The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century) and has recently written an essay for The Los Angeles Times suggesting that Usama bin Laden may well understand that he in serious danger of being killed within the next year http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-op-coll13apr13,0,61268.story. This shift in the conventional wisdom is mostly based on recent political changes in Pakistan due to the weakening of al-Qaeda political support in the Northwest Frontier and repeated tactical mistakes by the terrorist group, including the increase in suicide bombings directed against civilians to include the murder of Benazir Bhutto. An opinion poll conducted by Terror Free Tomorrow indicates that those having a favorable view of bin Laden in the tribal area currently number under 10%. The civilian politicians who are now in positions of authority both in Islamabad and in disputed frontier regions are not friendly to the militants. They do not share the Pakistani military and President Pervez Musharraf’s willingness to tolerate bin Laden’s survival to keep the annual $1 billion in US aid flowing. On the contrary, they wish to capture or kill the al-Qaeda leader to end the instability along the border with Afghanistan and to demonstrate that they will not tolerate the presence of terrorists.
The US intelligence community has seen other evidence suggesting that al-Qaeda is weakening both in its capabilities and in its ability to attract money and volunteers from around the world. Many of the sensitive intelligence sources available to the US point towards the coming end of the bin Laden era due to a general collapse of the organization’s morale and the rise of uneducated and inexperienced cadres that will be prone to make mistakes and will eventually erode the security of bin Laden himself. There is also a growing sense that that strong ideologues within al-Qaeda will possibly demand change and will end up in violent internal conflict over organizational objectives and methodologies. In any event, it is now considered likely that al-Qaeda’s formal organization will deteriorate, leading to the decline and eventual destruction of its leadership, including bin Laden himself. Ironically, the revisionist analysis is not having any impact on White House counterterrorism strategies, such as they are, and is not producing any thoughtful commentary from the presidential candidates about America’s terrorism problem.