In Search of Elusive bin Laden By Lee Hamilton December 28, 2004 Where is Osama bin Laden? We have heard from him via video and audiotape. But despite one of the most aggressive manhunts in history, his capture has proven elusive. The most likely answer is Pakistan. Common knowledge places bin Laden near the Afghan border, particularly in Pakistan's northwestern tribal areas, where the terrain is rugged, at turns mountainous or desert. The tribes are often sympathetic to bin Laden and his Islamist cause, and hostile to the United States and Pakistan's President, Pervez Musharraf. Many supported the jihad against the Soviet Union in the 1980s, the Taliban in the 1990s, and now al-Qaida's jihad against the U.S. U.S. intelligence and military resources are now focused on Iraq, and U.S. forces in Afghanistan are restricted from pursuing al-Qaida and Taliban fighters into Pakistan. The CIA has reportedly set up bases within Pakistan to hunt bin Laden, but they are largely dependent upon Pakistanis for support. Most locals are not inclined to help. Understandably, some Americans are asking if Pakistan -- which receives billions of dollars in U.S. aid -- is doing all it can to capture America's most dangerous adversary. There is no easy solution. For Pakistan, sustained military operations in the border region -- or permission to the U.S military to operate within Pakistan -- could fuel violence and even rebellion. For the U.S., we are so dependent upon Pakistan for cooperation on Afghanistan, counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation that it is hard for us to "get tough" on the issue of bin Laden. But bin Laden's freedom is a blow to U.S. credibility and a boost to al-Qaida's propaganda. Killing or capturing him is necessary to achieve a measure of justice for 9/11 and other terrorist attacks, and is a stated goal of U.S. policy. Meanwhile, bin Laden can present himself to his followers and the wider Islamic world as a daring revolutionary, decrying, striking and then defying the world's greatest superpower. Perhaps more important is bin Laden's role in the global Islamist terrorist movement. Al-Qaida now lacks the fixed command and control system used to carry out the 9/11 attacks, but recent tapes demonstrate how bin Laden provides broad strategic guidance to a global decentralized network of terrorist groups. Several months ago, he called for attacks on American allies in the Iraq war, and the Madrid bombings followed. Bin Laden's calls for jihad in Iraq may have fueled the insurgency, or at least aligned al-Qaida's cause with those fighting in Iraq. In recent tapes, bin Laden has singled out the Saudi government for attacks and overthrow, threatening the global oil supply. Bin Laden has also dropped his most inflammatory language about killing all Americans, and has targeted contempt on policies such as the Iraq war and support for Israel, which are widely unpopular in the Islamic world. He has also highlighted the strain placed on America's budget and trade deficits, pointing out that the 9/11 attacks cost al-Qaida $500,000 and have led to $500,000 billion in costs to the U.S. This shift may be intended to draw wider support from those who oppose American policies yet resist violence. Bin Laden may also be laying out a clear strategic vision for his followers: target America and its interests in the Persian Gulf, overthrow the Saudi government, sever the Western alliance, and overextend American economic and military power. There is no doubt that bin Laden is evil. But we should not underestimate his capabilities. He is an effective propagandist, strategist and leader of men. No doubt somewhere in the world he is plotting attacks on the United States, and fomenting terrorism and instability around the world. His removal must remain an urgent priority in 2005. Hamilton is the director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.