Osama Bin Laden's Abbottabad Letter: Bin Ladin's documents do not explicitly point to any institutional Pakistani support for Bin Ladin. Bin Ladin's second main concern was to find alternative places outside Afghanistan and Pakistan to mount "external operations."
In contrast to Bin Ladin's public statements that focused on the injustice of those he believed to be the "enemies" (a`da') of Muslims, namely corrupt "apostate" Muslim rulers and their Western "overseers," the focus of his private letters is Muslims' suffering at the hands of his jihadi "brothers" (ikhwa). He was at pains advising them to abort domestic attacks that cause Muslim civilian casualties and instead focus on the United States, "our desired goal." Bin Ladin's frustration with regional jihadi groups and his seeming inability to exercise control over their actions and public statements is the most compelling story to be told on the basis of the 17 declassified documents. The main points from each of the report's four sections are briefly summarized below.
Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had a contentious and troubled relationship with al Qaeda's affiliates around the world,according to a new study of documents seized during the raid on his compound one year ago. Documents from the bin Laden compound reveal the al Qaeda leader's frustration with what he saw to be the incompetence of the affiliates, according to the report by the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
The Scope of the Report
It was reported that "thousands of items" were captured from Usama bin Ladin's compound during the Abbottabad raid. To date, however, only 17 documents have been declassified and provided to the CTC, all of which are hereby released with the publication of this report. They consist of electronic letters or draft letters, totaling 175 pages in the original Arabic and 197 pages in the English translation. They were written over several years. The earliest is dated September 2006 and the latest April 2011, a week before Bin Ladin's death.
Rather than a source of strength, Bin Ladin 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 documents show that some of the affiliates sought Bin Ladin's blessing on symbolic matters, such as declaring an Islamic state, and wanted a formal union to acquire the al- Qa`ida brand. On the operational front, however, the affiliates either did not consult with Bin Ladin or were not prepared to follow his directives. Therefore, the framing of an "AQC" [Al Qaeda Central] as an organization in control of regional "affiliates" reflects a conceptual construction by outsiders rather than the messy reality of insiders.
If the criticisms of AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq] in the documents are not particularly surprising, the concerns Bin Ladin expressed about AQAP [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] will no doubt be revealing to many. It is widely believed that AQAP is a success story from al-Qa`ida's perspective, especially since it is regularly described by senior U.S. government officials as the "most dangerous" of al- Qa`ida's affiliates. Yet the documents show that at least in 2010 Bin Ladin was far from being impressed with the brothers in Yemen." He comes across as critical of both their words and deeds, in particular the group's attacks in Yemen, its lack of acumen to win the Yemeni people's support, and the ill-advised public statements of its leaders. In fact, with the possible exception of AQI, none of the other "affiliates" appear to be more of a source of concern for Bin Ladin than AQAP.
Not Friendly With Iran
Relations between al-Qa`ida and Iran appear to have been highly antagonistic, and the documents provide evidence for the first time of al-Qa`ida's covert campaign against Iran. This battle appears to have been an attempt to influence the indirect and unpleasant negotiations over the release of jihadis and their families, including members of Bin Ladin's family, detained by Iran.
Unlike the explicit and relatively substantive references to the Iranian regime, the documents do not have such references about Pakistan. Although there are notes about "trusted Pakistani brothers," there are no explicit references to any institutional Pakistani support. The one instance Pakistani intelligence is mentioned is not in a supporting role: in the course of giving detailed instructions about the passage his released family from Iran should take, Bin Ladin cautioned `Atiyya to be most careful about their movements lest they be followed. More precisely, he remarked that "if the [Pakistani] intelligence commander in the region is very alert, he would assume that they are heading to my location and he would monitor them until they reach their destination." This reference does not suggest that Bin Ladin was on good terms with the Pakistani intelligence community.
On Their Own
Rather than outright protection or assistance from states such as Iran or Pakistan, Bin Ladin's guidance suggests that the group's leaders survived for as long as they did due to their own caution and operational security protocols. While the release of new documents may necessitate a reevaluation of al-Qa`ida's relations to Iran and Pakistan, the documents for now make it clear that al-Qa`ida's ties to Iran were the unpleasant byproduct of necessity, fueled by mutual distrust and antagonism.
Arab Spring and the Final Letter
Bin Ladin's last private letter is dated 25 April 2011. By then, events in the world, as he was observing them on his television screen, were unfolding at a pace that caused him to reassess his worldview. He saw the revolutions sweeping the Arab world to represent a "formidable event" (hadath ha'il), a turning point in the modern history of the umma. At the time he was writing, the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt, Zein al-`Abidin bin `Ali and Husni Mubarak, had fallen. Bin Ladin was convinced that their fall was bound to trigger a domino effect, and "the fall of the remaining tyrants in the region was inevitable." Thus, "if we double our efforts towards guiding, educating and warning Muslim people from those [who might tempt them to settle for] half solutions, by carefully presenting [our] advice, then the next phase will [witness a victory] for Islam, if God so pleases."
Conclusion: No Puppet Master