By Jim Kouri
The United States is a safer place since Navy SEALs located and killed al-Qaeda’s infamous Osama bin Laden in his hideout in Pakistan on May 1, 2011 [May 2 in Pakistan], according to Pentagon and Justice Department officials on Saturday.
Today, nearly a year after bin Laden’s demise, the United States and its allies continue to hunt down al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups wherever they are located. Within the United States police departments and law enforcement agencies are conducting counterterrorist operations against both foreign fighters who have illegally entered the U.S., and against homegrown terrorists who are radicalized American Muslims.
Overseas, the nation’s intelligence and military organizations pursue terrorist groups throughout the Middle East and North Africa and provide assistance to countries still fighting al-Qaeda and its allies.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta — who served as Director of Central Intelligence on May 1, 2011 when the al-Qaeda leader’s reign of terror met its end — recalled the high-risk mission the Defense Department called Operation Neptune Spear, according to American Forces Press Service’s Cheryl Pellerin.
“I don’t think there’s any question that America is safer as a result of the bin Laden operation,” Panetta told reporters traveling with him.
“When you combine that with the other operations that have … gone after al-Qaeda leadership,” he said, “I think it has weakened al-Qaeda as an organization and certainly it has prevented them from having the command-and-control capability to be able to put together an attack similar to 9/11.”
But al-Qaeda remains a threat, the secretary added. “It doesn’t mean that we somehow don’t have the responsibility to keep going after them wherever they are — and we are,” he said.
Officials had based the operation “on a lot of circumstantial evidence,” the secretary noted, “yet it was the best lead on bin Laden’s whereabouts since 2001.”
However, the validity of the evidence, he said, was “still a big question mark.”
Panetta was at that time of the SEAL operation on the line with Navy Adm. William H. McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command. McRaven was monitoring communications from Jalalabad, Afghanistan.
“The more successful we are at taking down those who represent their spiritual and ideological leadership, the greater our ability to weaken their threat to this country and to other countries,” Panetta said.
While there are no solid indications that the terrorist group al-Qaeda or its allies, such as Al-Shabbab, Boko Haram, and others, are plotting operations of revenge, counterterrorism experts have voiced their concerns and believe “it’s better to be safe than sorry.”