U.S. Kills Osama Bin Laden In Daring Pakistan Raid

President Barack Obama announced late Sunday night that U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, during a Sunday morning raid against his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The  al Qaeda leader was killed during a firefight and his body was retrieved by U.S. troops, who suffered no casualties, Obama reported. “The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al Qaeda,” the President said in his 10 minute televised address.

The successful raid took place almost a decade after the 2001 attacks, which took nearly 3,000 lives in New York City’s World Trade Towers, the Pentagon, and aboard four hijacked U.S. commercial flights.   “We can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al Qaeda’s terror:  Justice has been done,” Obama said.

Even before the President made his official announcement at 11:35 EST, word of bin Laden’s death had spread through Washington, to foreign capitals and around the Internet. U.S. bases were put on high alert against possible reprisal attacks, while a cheering, chanting crowd began gathering outside the White House.

In a briefing after the President’s announcement, senior administration officials said that Obama authorized the raid Friday morning after months of planning and after five National Security Council meetings, beginning on March 14th, held to discuss the operation.  The high risk raid was carried out by a small U.S. team that landed in helicopters, with no advance notice to the Pakistani or any other government.  One helicopter had unspecified problems and was destroyed on the ground by the U.S. forces, they said. (The officials declined to identify the forces, but the mission was reportedly carried out by two dozen Navy Seals.)

In addition to bin Laden, three other men, including one of bin Laden’s sons, and one woman who was “used as a shield by a male combatant,” were killed, they said.  Two other women in the compound were injured during the operation which lasted “under 40 minutes” and was completed without local police authorities noticing, the officials reported.  One official added that the body of the 54-year-old bin Laden would be “handled in accordance with Islamic practice and tradition.” (Update: CNN reported at 3 A.M. Monday morning that bin Laden had been buried at sea.)

According to the officials, U.S. intelligence agents had been following the trail that ultimately led to bin Laden for four years, after learning from detainees that there was one courier whom the al Qaeda leader particularly trusted.   Two years ago, they identified areas where that courier was operating and last August located the compound where he was living with his family, his brother’s family and a third, unidentified family. (The two brothers were the third and fourth men killed, the official said.)

As the U.S. investigated that compound, “we were shocked by what we saw,” one official said. The property,  located in an affluent suburb  “with lots of retired military’’ 35 miles north of Islamabad, was roughly eight times larger than other homes in the area and was secured by 12 to 18 foot walls, topped by barbed wired. While valued at $1 million, the compound had no telephone or Internet service. The compound’s residents burned their trash, rather than putting it out to be collected, as neighbors did.  Although the compound was built at the end of a dirt road in 2005, the area  has since become more developed, they said.  It is unclear how long bin Laden himself had been hiding there.

“It was custom built to hide someone of significance,’’ one official said. The third family living in the compound appeared to match bin Laden’s family, with a woman believed to be his youngest wife and some other family members.  The compound “was perfectly consistent with what we expected” his hideout to be like, the official added.  “The bottom line,’’ he said, was “we had high confidence that the compound harbored a high value target and there was a strong possibility that the terrorist who was hiding there was Osama bin Laden.’’ After intelligence operatives concluded in February that this was most likely bin Laden’s compound,  U.S. forces began planning and practicing the operation.

During the briefing, one administration official observed that while “al Qaeda may not fragment immediately,”  the death of  bin Laden “puts the group on a path of decline that will be difficult to reverse.”

In his address, Obama said that “shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of our war against al Qaeda, even as we continued our broader efforts to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat his network.”

While the raid was carried out without advance notice to the Pakistanis, in his statement, Obama credited “our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan” with helping  “lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding.”  But the fact that bin Laden was hiding in a densely populated suburb, and not a remote tribal area or cave, will likely feed speculation that some elements within the Pakistani intelligence service or military were aware of his presence there.

It is unclear what the reaction  to the operation will be within Pakistan, although some Pakistanis will no doubt be unhappy about U.S. military action on their soil. “Over the years, I’ve repeatedly made clear that we would take action within Pakistan if we knew where bin Laden was,” Obama said. He added: “Tonight I called (Pakistani) President Zardari, and my team has also spoken with their Pakistani counterparts.  They agree that this is a good and historic day for both of our nations.  And going forward, it is essential that Pakistan continue to join us in the fight against al Qaeda and its affiliates.” Obama also called former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton before making his announcement.

The death of bin Laden, Obama said, “does not mark the end of our effort.  There’s no doubt that al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us.  We must –- and we will — remain vigilant at home and abroad.”  He added that as the the U.S. pursues terrorists, “we must also reaffirm that the United States is not –- and never will be -– at war with Islam.  I’ve made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam.  Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims.  Indeed, al Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own.  So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.”

Source: Forbes


Obama’s Innovation Agenda

In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Obama appealed to Democrats and Republicans to put aside partisan differences and work together to restore American competitiveness.

“We need to out-innovate out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world,” Obama said before a joint session of Congress. “We have to make America the best place on earth to do business.”

If there was a central theme to the president’s remarks, it was innovation. He called for more investment in education, research, science and clean energy.  He described the present as “our generation’s Sputnik moment,” a reference to the Russian satellite that jump-started America’s space program more than half a century ago. (See Full Text: President’s State Of The Union Address)

And in order to stoke innovation and competition, Obama made several direct proposals and a few veiled ones. The president wants to freeze domestic spending for five years and eliminate earmarks. He wants to make it easier for legal immigrants with research visas to stay in the United States, which would be a boon for tech companies. And he wants to make permanent a tax credit to help college students pay for tuition over four years.

Many of the president’s proposals would have a direct affect on certain industries or the broader business community. A rough guide:

Increase the country’s clean energy portfolio for electricity. Obama didn’t directly propose a national renewable electricity standard, but he came darn close–the goal is to derive 80% of the country’s electricity from clean energy sources by 2035. What qualifies as “clean”? Wind, solar, natural gas, clean coal and nuclear power. “To meet this goal, we will need them all,” the president said. That’s sure to make nuclear power producers in particular very happy.

Tax oil companies to pay for clean energy investments. Among other energy initiatives, the president wants to end U.S. dependence on biofules and put 1 million electric cars on America’s highways by 2015. “And to help pay for it, I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies,” Obama added.

This has been a longstanding goal of the president. It’s not clear whether it can be achieved. Last year his budget request called for the elimination of $36.5 billion “fossil fuel tax preferences.” But despite political ire directed at Big Oil following the Gulf Oil spill, Congress left town in December leaving on the table a handful of tax hikes aimed at the industry.

Cut the 1099 reporting requirement out of health care reform–at least for some businesses. As a revenue raiser to help pay for the health care law passed last March, Congress included a requirement that all businesses file IRS 1099 paperwork when they make purchases greater than $600. (The requirement was designed to crack down on under the table purchases.) However, the business community, notably the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has described it as a bureaucratic nightmare.

Health care reform won’t be repealed in full any time soon, but Obama says he’s willing to work with Republicans to help correct some controversial aspects of it. “We can start right now by correcting a flaw in the legislation that has placed an unnecessary bookkeeping burden on small businesses,” he said. No word on which business would be exempt or how the revenue foregone might be replaced.

Lower the corporate tax rate. Many U.S. businesses would love to see a reduction in the U.S. corporate tax rate. At 35% nominally, it’s among the highest in the world (though most corporations pay far less because the tax code includes a host of deductions.) Obama didn’t go so far as to call for a specific reduction in the rate–perhaps he’ll mention that in his budget request next month? But he did say that he wants to “get rid of the loopholes,” “level the playing field” and “use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years–without adding to our deficit.”

Speaking of taxes, the president says he wants to simplify the tax code, though that’s a debate that will take a long time–perhaps two years or more–to wind through Congress. Obama is sticking by his goal of letting the Bush tax cuts expire after 2012, however.

Place a five-year freeze on domestic spending. The president didn’t specify which spending should be frozen–expect those details in the budget next month–but he did suggest reducing health care costs (including Medicare and Medicaid), defense spending and tax expenditures. There’s a caveat:  don’t cut too much. Earlier this week, conservative Republicans proposed slashing non-defense discretionary spending by $100 billion for the remainder of fiscal year 2011. “Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine,” Obama said.

The president is also open to Social Security reform “without putting at risk current retirees” and without “slashing benefits for future generations.” Obama is not in favor of allowing Social Security payments to be invested in the stock market.

Streamline the federal bureaucracy. “In the coming months, my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate, and reorganize the federal government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive America,” the president said.

Huh? Depending on how detailed this proposal is, it may be the biggest announcement in his entire address Tuesday night. Is he talking about eliminating or at least consolidating entire agencies? Stay tuned.

“We do big things,” said the president, referring to American innovation. Obama also proposed some big ideas. The extent to which they’re implemented depends upon the level of cooperation in Congress.

In the Republican rebuttal to the president’s remarks, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., criticized Obama and congressional Democrats for expanding the federal government at the risk of stifling innovation through excessive regulation, spending and favoritism for certain industries.

“Washington should not be in the business of picking winners and losers,” Ryan said.  “The president mentioned the need for regulatory reform to ease the burden on American businesses. We agree – and we think his health care law would be a great place to start.”

For a look at at the potential flashpoints that lie ahead, pay attention to the difference in Republican and Democrat responses when the Congressional Budget Office releases its latest Budget and Economic Outlook Wednesday morning. The next battle will be over the FY2012 budget in February, then the debt ceiling increase in March. (Republicans want to ensure spending cuts if they agree to raise the federal debt limit.)

“We will move forward–or not at all,” the president said near the beginning of his speech, fairly accurately describing the current environment in Washington. “[F]or the challenges we face are bigger than party, and bigger than politics.”

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