“Late Sunday night local time, two U.S. helicopters from Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and carrying Team Six SEALs flew in low from Afghanistan… The raid began on the smaller of two buildings in [Bin Laden's] compound, where [Bin Laden's] couriers were believed to live. The raid then moved to the larger three-story building.
“Two Bin Laden couriers were killed, as was Osama Bin Laden’s son Khalid and a woman. Two women were injured. Children were present in the compound but were not harmed. U.S. officials said that bin Laden was asked to surrender but did not. He was shot in the head and then shot again to make sure he was dead.”
- ABC News
News this month of Osama Bin Laden’s death sparked widespread celebration. Thousands of Americans, enthralled that the U.S.’s number one most wanted criminal had been liquidated, marked the occasion by gathering in public places and waving the American flag.
As is custom with any popular political event, both Democrats and Republicans pushed hard in the days following the raid to claim responsibility for the kill.
But Bin Laden’s death, however popular it was, is having some unintended political consequences as well – it is refocusing the American people’s attention on the longest war our country has ever fought.
Now that Bin Laden is Dead, the media is abuzz with the question: could this mean the end of the war in Afghanistan?
A Decade of Occupation
The U.S. Government first invaded Afghanistan in 2001, allegedly to displace Al Qaeda following the September 11th attacks on the Twin Towers.
Since the initial invasion, the U.S. Government has been immersed in controversy. Critics have lambasted both the Bush and Obama administrations for the extremely high costs of the war, the ruinous impact it has had on Afghan civilians, and for a host of human rights abuses – perhaps most notably at the Bagram Theater Internment Facility, where many Afghan prisoners later found to be innocent were subjected to excruciating physical and mental strain at the hands of their American captors, and where at least two prisoners were found to be chained to a wall and beaten to death by guards.
The U.S. Government, when it has bothered to acknowledge international criticism at all, maintains that the cost Afghan civilians have paid, while high, will be more than justified given the order which will be brought by the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – the U.S. backed central government which replaced the Taliban following the invasion.
Further, maintains Obama,“[The] war began only because our own cities and civilians were attacked by violent extremists who plotted from that distant place, and it continues only because that plotting persists to this day.”
Facts and Fictions:
The rationale for the invasion of Afghanistan – that it was the country from which “violent extremists… plotted” attacks on American civilians, is dubious at best.
To begin with, Afghanistan was by no means the center of either the plotting for the september 11th attacks, nor was it the permanent headquarters of al-Qaeda.
Of the thousands of militants which al-Qaeda was estimated to have had in 2001 - we had no accurate way of measuring – perhaps only as many as 1,500 were actually based in Afghanistan at the time. That number as of 2009 , estimates a senior U.S. military intelligence official, is now probably closer to 100.
FBI Director Robert Mueller conceded that even though the “idea” of the september 11th attacks likely came from leadership in Afghanistan, “investigators believe… the actual plotting was done in Germany.”
al-Qaeda has historically been a rather decentralized organization (both logistically and geographically), so much so that many government officials, intelligence analysts and academics heatedly contest the idea that we can classify it as a single organization at all.
Since its inception, in fact, the group considered to be al-Qaeda’s leadership has moved from Yemen to Somalia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Militants associated with them have operated in over 40 countries, according to the U.S. Department of State.
Our nations “gravest threat,” it turns out, is a bit hard to identify, once we’ve looked a little closer.