Death of Osama bin Laden, one year later

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It appears that Osama bin Laden may have been frustrated with the incompetence of regional jihadi affiliates of the al-Qaida organization and his lack of control over their public actions, according to a new report from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.

The report released Thursday assesses 17 declassified documents that were captured during the 2011 Abbottabad raid that killed bin Laden. It also shows, for the first time, the internal struggles of the al-Qaida organization and the lack of control its highest leader had over the expansion of the organization.

In his address to the nation confirming bin Laden’s death, almost a decade after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Barack Obama called it the “most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al-Qaida.”

One year later, a look at the city of Abbottabad, where Osama bin Laden was killed in a compound by U.S. Special Forces on May 2, 2011.

“Rather than a source of strength, Bin Laden was burdened by what he viewed as the incompetence of the ‘affiliates,’ including their lack of political acumen to win public support, their media campaigns and their poorly planned operations which resulted in the unnecessary deaths of thousands of Muslims,” the report’s authors write.

The 17 declassified documents, mostly electronic letters or draft letters in Arabic, were also released by the CTC along with English translations.

Some of the letters emphasize continued attacks on America and targeted specific leaders including President Obama.

In one translated letter (SOCOM-2012-0000019), from bin Laden to Shaykh Mahmud after the death of Sheikh Sa‘id in late May 2010, bin Laden writes:

“They are not to target visits by U.S. Vice President Biden, Secretary of Defense Gates, Joint Chiefs of Staff (Chairman) Mullen, or the Special Envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan Holbrook. The groups will remain on the lookout for Obama or Petraeus. The reason for concentrating on them is that Obama is the head of infidelity and killing him automatically will make Biden take over the presidency for the remainder of the term, as it is the norm over there. Biden is totally unprepared for that post, which will lead the US into a crisis. As for Petraeus, he is the man of the hour in this last year of the war, and killing him would alter the war’s path.”

In another translated letter (SOCOM-2012-0000017), an unknown author, who may have been bin Laden, refers to America as a tree trunk with three branches:

“The trunk of the tree represents America. The branches of the tree represent countries, like NATO members, and countries in the Arab world. We, on the other hand, represent a person who wants to cut down the tree. Our abilities and resources, however, are limited, thus we cannot do the job quickly enough. The only option we are left with is to slowly cut that tree down by using a saw. Our intention is to saw the trunk of that tree, and never to stop until the tree falls down.”

Other letters referenced al-Qaida Central, the organization’s ties with Iran and Pakistan as well as concerns over regional Islamist affiliates like Al-Shabaab in Somalia. The earliest letter dates back to September 2006, while the latest letter translated is dated April 26, 2011, just a week before bin Laden’s death.