By Mike Mount
Osama bin Laden ordered suicide squads to be created in Pakistan and Afghanistan for the sole reason of tracking down President Obama and Gen. David Petraeus, who was then the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, according to a letter written by bin Laden in May of 2010.
The letter, released by West Point's Combating Terrorism Center, published some of the documents captured in the bin Laden raid last May. A review of the letters released publicly Thursday offer insight into the top leader's thinking and planning as he remained hidden from global view but still tried to have a hand in directing his organization, al Qaeda.
The al Qaeda leader asked his lieutenants to identify people in both countries who could keep an eye out for Obama and Petraeus and conduct suicide operations against them as they traveled in either country.
"I asked Shaykh Sa'id, Allah have mercy on his soul, to task brother Ilyas to prepare two groups - one in Pakistan and the other in the Bagram area of Afghanistan - with the mission of anticipating and spotting the visits of Obama or Petraeus to Afghanistan or Pakistan to target the aircraft of either one of them," bin Laden wrote.
He then gave a brief civics lesson on why they should not target Vice President Joe Biden: because he was in the direct chain of command and "Biden is totally unprepared for that post (the presidency), which will lead the U.S. into a crisis," he wrote.
He also said the suicide teams were not to target then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates; or the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time, Adm. Mike Mullen; or Richard Holbrook, who was the special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Bin Laden's reasoning for targeting only Petraeus and Obama was that they were the heads of state and of operations in Afghanistan, and without them, the path of the war would be altered.
While the plots against Petraeus and Obama seemed to be the most direct plans against U.S. targets, the letters also communicated al Qaeda's understanding of the its limitations and focus on smaller tactics that would chip away at U.S. power, ultimately crippling the U.S. and achieving the mujahedeen goal of creating an Islamic state.
Bin Laden also directed that suicide bombers not work by themselves but in pairs so one could focus on the work and the other could handle the stresses associated with setting up assassination plots.
"A minimum of two brothers should be sent for suicide operations; they should not send a single suicide brother. We have experienced this in many operations where the percentage of success was very low, due to the psychological effects that overcome the brother in such cases," bin Laden wrote.
In the order, bin Laden referenced the April 2010 suicide attack on the British ambassador in Yemen. "Regardless of the heroism of the brother and his steadfastness, the psychological factors that affect the person in such cases necessitate the presence of a companion that will support and bolster him."
In an undated letter believed to have been written by bin Laden, though it isn't signed, bin Laden simply but directly likened the U.S. to a tree and its allies and cooperating Muslim countries as the branches of the tree. He explained that al Qaeda and its affiliates made up the saw that would slowly cut down the tree, after which its branches would die.
"Our abilities and resources, however, are limited, thus we cannot do the job quickly enough. The only option we are left with is to slowly cut that tree down by using a saw. Our intention is to saw the trunk of that tree, and never to stop until that tree falls down."
"We want to saw the trunk until the wicked tree is down. God willing, once the tree is down, its branches will die thereof. You saw what happened to the Russians in Afghanistan, when the mujahedeen focused on sawing the trunk of their wicked tree. Their tree fell down, then its branches died out, from South Yemen to Eastern Europe."
In at least two of the documents, he emphasized that while in combat, mujahedeen fighters should only focus on destroying U.S. targets.
Bin Laden went on to try and explain by citing a hypothetical example: When fighters ambush a NATO convoy, they should, if possible, focus only on the trucks with U.S. troops inside and ignore the ones carrying Afghans or other nationalities.
Bin Laden said that his forces must also understand their limitations and "preserve their strength" to fight against Americans or American interests and only attack U.S. allies in the field if there are no other options.
In what seems to be a page out of corporate strategy, he warned al Qaeda branches to be more organized in terms knowing which group is operating in what country when planning to attack Americans.
"Avoid targeting conflicts between the al Qaeda branches, each mujahedeen group must be certain that it is the only al Qaeda group operating in a country where it intends to target Americans."
And in the May 2010 letter, he wrote to an operative to start coordinating with the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan so al Qaeda could offer them assistance and the benefit of al Qaeda's own success operating within the United States.
"Tell them that we started planning work inside America many years ago, and gained experience in that field, and we and they are brothers so we should not fall into the error that hurts the Muslims and benefits the enemy, due to lack of coordination between us," he said in the letter.
But bin Laden also suggested tactics that focused on American targets in other countries that may not be obvious targets, but he did not discuss specifics.
"You may find it suitable to target Americans in South Africa, because it is located outside the Islamic Maghreb. Also, South Africa is not covered by the brothers who are located outside that region. The same can be said about other African countries."