With bin Laden dead, what's next for war in Afghanistan?
U.S. troops walk through Camp Hansen, in Marjah, Afghanistan.
May 4th, 2011
11:21 AM ET

With bin Laden dead, what's next for war in Afghanistan?

If the impetus for the U.S. war in Afghanistan was the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by al Qaeda and pursuit of its leader Osama bin Laden, then what does his death mean for the war in Afghanistan and against global terrorism? That's the question being raised by politicians, world leaders and security experts.

What happens next?

Osama bin Laden's death may have little impact on the continuing course of the war or on the continuing threat of terrorism, analysts said.

But the big question is what's next for al Qaeda operations and U.S. operations in Afghanistan.

After news of bin Laden's death, Sen. Dick Lugar questioned whether the United States needs to change course in Afghanistan, saying the country doesn't pose as big of a threat anymore given the reason it was there in the first place was to hunt down bin Laden.

And with the big man at the top out of the picture, Time magazine's Mark Thompson writes, "pressure will increase to speed up the withdrawal of some of the 100,000 U.S. troops now in Afghanistan."

Lisa Curtis, former CIA analyst and former state department adviser, told CNN she believes "now is not the time" to announce large-scale changes for the U.S. timeline in Afghanistan.

"If [the U.S.] were to hasten the plans for withdrawal just because we captured bin Laden, it would send the wrong signal," she said.

The decision is also a matter of message, versus money and strategy.

"The war in Afghanistan was never solely about killing or capturing bin Laden. The United States sought to overthrow the Taliban because it had allowed bin Laden to operate inside Afghanistan," Nora Bensahel, deputy director of studies and a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, wrote in an opinion piece for CNN.

"Even those who recently supported the war may now believe that the war’s main goals have been achieved and it is time for U.S. forces to come home," Bensahel wrote. "Obama will face an uphill battle convincing Americans – and some members of Congress – that U.S. strategic interests still require spending billions of dollars a month on military operations in Afghanistan."

What impact does bin Laden's death actually have?

Some question whether bin Laden's death will actually mean a significant blow to al Qaeda and its operations, but others worry the death may lead to retaliations that will require more U.S. resources.

It's part of the long-standing, grand ambition of our foreign policy - to delink the "good" Taliban from the "bad" Taliban and al Qaeda as a way to bring peace to Afghanistan.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the death was a warning that the Taliban cannot hide, but she hopes his death can mark a road to peace for those who want it. 

A U.S. senior official who deals with policies in Afghanistan told the Washington Post the death changes things because it “presents an opportunity for reconciliation that didn’t exist before.”  The hope, as Clinton hinted, is that somehow the death can be leveraged into peace talks.

"Administration officials think it could now be easier for the reclusive leader of the largest Taliban faction, Mohammad Omar, to break his group’s alliance with al Qaeda, a key U.S. requirement for any peace deal," the Washington Post writes. "They also think that bin Laden’s death could make peace talks a more palatable outcome for Americans and insulate President Obama from criticism that his administration would be negotiating with terrorists."

Divided views

What should happen next, of course, depends on the vantage point.

For U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the answer is simple: It's time to pull out of Afghanistan now.

"Notwithstanding the unparalleled performance of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the demands of a global war on terror cannot be met by concentrating resources in this one region indefinitely. The president has yet to articulate a definition of success in Afghanistan. Our forces on the ground remain the best in the world, having decimated al Qaeda and diminished its influence even before the death of bin Laden," he wrote.

However, he believes the U.S. should focus on the broader war on terrorism.

"While we expend massive resources shoring up a questionable government [in Afghanistan,] the real war on terror continues to be a global problem that extends beyond the borders of Afghanistan," he wrote.

It's a feeling other members of Congress are beginning to express louder, as well.

For members of the military and their families, that's a welcomed sentiment, but one that comes with great concern.

For some, like the father of the first U.S. victim of the war in Afghanistan, the death was a day of "victory," perhaps a sign that his son did not die in vain.

But for those still on the front lines, there are many questions.

While they are thrilled with the news, military families worry about their loved ones and fear retaliation. They know their family and friends in combat will be called on as threat concerns rise, but they continue to hope the death could mean more calls for them to finally come home from Afghanistan - once and for all.

If not Afghanistan, then where?

With the death of bin Laden, many questions about the strength of terrorist groups, specifically al Qaeda, are back in the forefront.

The New York Times writes that the raid itself has "called into question many of the administration’s basic assumptions about how to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for Islamic terrorists."

Looking into the future will be key to what role the United States plays in Afghanistan and where it focuses its efforts in the war on terror.

Analysis of many profiles of Guantanamo detainees suggests that becoming a member of al Qaeda in Yemen in the late 1990s was relatively easy, which may explain why Yemenis comprised the third largest group (after Afghans and Saudis) held there. A major concern is where the new hotbed of terrorist activities will center, and Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan are of great concern.

And with bin Laden becoming the latest high-ranking terrorist to be caught in Pakistan, questions are swirling about the United States' relationship with the splintered country - and its role in the war on terrorism.

U.S. officials said they hope the attack will inspire the Pakistani government to cooperate more fully with the United States. Several officials predict Pakistan will go through a period of soul-searching about the fact that bin Laden was hiding there in plain sight and that the U.S. killed him on its soil.

Some of the focus of the war may, in fact, depend on the information from bin Laden's compound that intelligence officials are combing through now.  Perhaps new clues and details may provide insight into the terrorist organization - and whether the United States should continue to focus on Afghanistan or divert resources, both financially and with troops, elsewhere.

For now, that's still up for debate. And with politics, emotions, money and lives on the line, it's bound to be a heated one.

soundoff (47 Responses)
  1. patricia

    I believe the US/Homeland Security must remain viligent in the prevention of terrorism. The live news should only give OBL a thumbprint photo on screen...stop promoting OBL and the evil he exuded in the name of Allah...the US has many important issues that need to be addressed today!

    May 5, 2011 at 8:21 am | Report abuse |
  2. Barry

    Isn’t the question: What do you do with countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan, which are utterly corrupt, because of the lucrative (multi-billion dollar) opium trafficking trade?

    6,900 tons of opium were produced in Afghanistan in 2009. (See: "The Masters of Spin Boldak", by Matthieu Aikins, in Harper’s Magazine's December, 2009 issue.)

    In Afghanistan and Pakistan the government (and the military) aid and support the drug traffickers. In fact the government and the military work for and with the drug traffickers.

    This multi-billion dollar industry supports the government and military, and it funds terrorism.

    In many ways what is occurring in Afghanistan and Pakistan is similar to what is occurring in Mexico, because of Mexico’s cocaine and marijuana trafficking to the US.

    Isn’t the question: What do you do about the opium trafficking and trafficking of other drugs (e.g., hashish) and other illicit trade in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

    We haven’t yet mentioned the horrific and detrimental effects opium and its derivatives (such as heroin) have on the citizens of the world (viz., crime, violence, addiction, poverty, physical abuse, neglect, etc.).

    And while we’re on the subject: What are we going to do about the cocaine and marijuana trafficking in Mexico?

    And what do we do about American banks, which have been found laundering the drug money for the Mexican drug cartels?

    May 5, 2011 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
  3. Barry

    So, what do you do with countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan, which are utterly corrupt, because of the lucrative (multi-billion dollar) opium trafficking trade?

    6,900 tons of opium were produced in Afghanistan in 2009. (See: "The Masters of Spin Boldak", by Matthieu Aikins, in Harper’s Magazine's December, 2009 issue.)

    In Afghanistan and Pakistan the government (and the military) aid and support the drug traffickers. In fact the government and the military work for and with the drug traffickers.

    This multi-billion dollar industry supports the government and military, and it funds terrorism.

    In many ways what is occurring in Afghanistan and Pakistan is similar to what is occurring in Mexico, because of Mexico’s cocaine and marijuana trafficking to the US.

    Isn’t the question: What do you do about the opium trafficking and trafficking of other drugs (e.g., hashish) and other illicit trade in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

    We haven’t yet mentioned the horrific and detrimental effects opium and its derivatives (such as heroin) have on the citizens of the world (viz., crime, violence, addiction, poverty, physical abuse, neglect, etc.).

    And while we’re on the subject: What are we going to do about the cocaine and marijuana trafficking in Mexico?

    And what do we do about American banks, which have been found laundering the drug money for the Mexican drug cartels?

    May 5, 2011 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
  4. Vonda

    Overall, I'm really proud of the American military forces for doing a fabulous job! I'm also grateful that Bin Laden is finally died! It's a momentous achievement that marks a victory for America, for people who seek peace around the world, and for all those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001.

    I even wrote a blog post about Bin Laden's death and more: http://www.successagainsttheodds.com/justice-has-been-done/

    May 5, 2011 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
  5. Omid

    Hello
    Osama bin laden was a American soldier
    His duty was porovoked people then US gaverment killing milions milions moslems in Afghanestan and Iraq and his brother ( Israeal ) kill 1000000...... people in Phalestin
    Down with killer
    Obama is brother Osama
    but will come MAHDI and JEUSES and world will get good and people kind..

    May 6, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  6. umairkhan31

    the problems is not u.s. which is staging that high drama using their meda power..the problem is this blind world which is not realizing and accepting the truth that all this is the fake drama from the very ist day..

    May 7, 2011 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
  7. Mom

    So great.. we are all happy for the death. So really? No what? My son deploys in 2 weeks for Afghanistan to fight for what now? Why do they have to go? Lets all try and get pictures released.. wow. Really? I would like to "see" my son not leave !!!!!!!! This sucks. when is this F@%$ing war going to end so Mom's, Wives, family don't have to sit back and wait n worry? IDK... unless u have someone out there going on their "tours" as they call it, well this is his 2nd "tour" and it does not get easier.

    May 13, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
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