Mission accomplished. At least, this particular mission.
No, the war on terror isn’t over; and, yes, it took far too long to track down Osama bin Laden and end his very personal war against the West and particularly against all Americans. But it was vitally important to take him out and send a message to all terrorists that attacks against innocent American citizens on our soil will be met with force and those involved pursued to the end.
While it is difficult to support targeting anyone for a death sentence, bin Laden’s threat was markedly different. He was using attacks against the West as a way to build a political following; to allow him to continue to build an organization to carry out his beliefs has been a costly mistake that will challenge America’s security for years to come. The harsh reality is that individuals who cause such violence and injustice must be hunted down and neutralized, one way or the other. That the Navy Seals did their job so effectively, and carried out a pre-subscribed burial at sea in the Muslim tradition — to minimize the ability of others to enshrine him as a martyr — illustrates how well orchestrated the mission was.
The second-degree grilling from the United Nations, Russia, China and others who are now questioning whether the United States was within its rights to swoop into Pakistan and execute this mission is infuriating to be sure. Bin Laden was an international terrorist who encouraged his followers to injure and kill whomever they perceived as their enemies anywhere around the world. And it’s not as if we hadn’t been asking the Pakistani government for its help. Rather, to his credit, President Obama figured out they were part of the problem and carried out the mission solo.
What can be learned from the past 10 years, post 9-11, is currently the hot topic among political and military analysts throughout the nation.
What many seem to agree on is that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made a huge mistake in 2001 when American forces had bin Laden holed up in the caves of Tora Bora in those early days of the fight against the Taliban. Rumsfeld and his team went in with too few soldiers (a few dozen special operations forces) on the ground along with missile strikes, and let him get away. The second mistake, which has proved even more costly, was invading Iraq and taking our military resources out of Afghanistan, which not only drained the national treasury but, more importantly, allowed bin Laden to rebuild a weakened al-Qaida and to grow its network internationally — a consequence we will live with for years. By 2006, with a deliberate policy under President Bush to ignore bin Laden’s whereabouts, his trail had gone “stone cold,” according to analysts. With the renewed escalation of the war in Afghanistan in 2006-07, the effort to track bin Laden was renewed, but even more so after President Barack Obama won election in 2008.
It was President Obama who made bin Laden’s capture or elimination a renewed priority for his national security team, pledging that when we found him, we would go in and take him out.
“In the end,” wrote Rachel Kleinfeld, co-founder and chief executive officer of the Truman National Security Project, “it took the right strategy — and the right temperament — to capture Osama bin Laden. Instead of looking for security leaders who mimic the Incredible Hulk — a lot of bluster and brute force — we need to start looking for Spidermen — smart, principled, flexible and willing to take risks. When we got the right combination, we finally caught our man … Obama’s mix of deliberation, courage and follow-through is what we needed to capture bin Laden.”
But closing the chapter on bid Laden’s reign of terror was just part of Sunday’s mission. According to news reports, the Navy Seals who carried out the strike also confiscated what could be valuable information while searching bin Laden’s hideout. If that information proves valuable, other terrorist leaders might be in the crosshairs of America’s military in the near future.
But the larger problem is how to extract American troops from Afghanistan, while not letting al-Qaida reestablish its base there and while ensuring the Taliban don’t once again take the Afghan people back into the dark ages. It won’t be easy, but with bin Laden out of the picture, it becomes a more practical goal and ushers in a new chapter in the fight against terrorism.
Angelo S. Lynn