Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

Al Qaeda leader's killing 'blessing and curse for Kiwi troops'

The death of Osama bin Laden will put Kiwi soldiers at greater risk in the short term. Photo / AP
The death of Osama bin Laden will put Kiwi soldiers at greater risk in the short term. Photo / AP

The death of Osama bin Laden will aid those who want New Zealand troops out of Afghanistan, but will also put them at greater risk in the short term, according to local security experts.

"This is one event that can strengthen the hands of those who say, 'Okay, we actually have achieved one of our main objectives of the war against al Qaeda," said Robert Ayson, the director of Victoria University's Centre for Strategic Studies.

"The New Zealand Government has been looking for a sign of that happening, so it can remove its forces eventually, so will be looking towards that too."

But foreign policy expert associate professor Stephen Hoadley from Auckland University said bin Laden was now a martyr and that could put New Zealanders at risk.

"The fact that the US has [taken] his body means that he has been desecrated - from their point of view - and therefore one could anticipate an upsurge of terrorist activity."

He said that could affect New Zealanders - particularly our forces in Afghanistan and other Kiwis in the Middle East.

Dr Ayson said the death of bin Laden was "massive" in a symbolic sense, as he was the figurehead of al-Qaeda and worldwide terror in the eyes of the American public.

"Fighting against international terrorism is very challenging, so you're looking for signs that you actually are making significant headway.

"And the one thing that any American President since 2001 has wanted is the capture or death of bin Laden ... and for President Obama to have that on his watch is quite an achievement."

International relations and security analyst Paul Buchanan told the Herald from Singapore that bin Laden's death wouldn't have much operational impact on al-Qaeda, given the group was already fragmented and weakened.

Dr Buchanan said the Arab Spring revolutions in Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries demonstrated a rejection of al Qaeda's extreme doctrines.

"His killing is icing on the cake. But for the larger picture ... it is only important in that it's coupled with the rejection of al Qaeda in the Arab world ... these guys are being ideologically decimated."

The location of bin Laden's heavily fortified hiding place - only about two hours' drive from Pakistan's capital city Islamabad - would be embarrassing for Pakistan and could lead to regional instability. "At some level there had to have been Pakistani complicity in giving shelter to bin Laden ... because Pakistan is a fractured state, some elements clearly had to have been involved.

"That is a tremendous diplomatic problem."

Dr Buchanan said the Pakistani Government was already under siege for the violation of sovereignty American drone attacks represented, and the question was now how they would respond.

- NZ Herald

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