A year ago this week, a nation learned about a valiant SEAL team, a situation room, and a compound in Abbottabad that became the setting of a notorious terrorist’s last stand. On the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death, are we looking back on a turning point in the global War on Terror?
Not by a long shot, a senior official of the Bush administration told Human Events.
Former United Nations ambassador John Bolton, now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said that the U.S. assassination of the mastermind behind the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks was rightly celebrated when it took place, but should not be seen as a death blow to al Qaeda, or to the Taliban’s grip on Afghanistan.
“I don’t think on net you can see that much difference. (Bin Laden) had been pushed into a point from sustained pressure over a number of years where he was less relevant than he had been before,” Bolton said. “His death doesn’t materially change the equation, I don’t think.”
By the numbers, the night raid that took down the Taliban leader and al Qaeda kingpin may have had some positive effect on the trajectory of the war in Afghanistan, at least in the short run.
U.S. and NATO casualties and the number of U.S. wounded were all down in a year-over-year comparison during the 12 months following bin Laden’s death. Reports released by the International Security Assistance Force show a decrease in enemy-initiated attacks on ISAF troops in Afghanistan for every month since May 2011, compared to the same month the previous year. Force officials added that the reduction in enemy-initiated attacks, the first such trend since 2008, was the longest sustained year-over-year downward trajectory recorded since ISAF began in 2001.
Other war statistics, possibly more telling, are far less encouraging.
Attacks on coalition troops from insiders–Afghan police and soldiers–have grown steadily. This year, so far, there have already been 13 such attacks, 10 of them fatal, compared with 21 attacks in total for 2011 and 11 for 2010, according to AP reports.
Experts said one explanation for the abundance of these “friendly” attacks may be a concern among Afghan citizens that, as the U.S. telegraphs its intention to draw down troop strength in Afghanistan in 2014, Afghans must once again form alliances with Taliban leaders preparing to assume control once again.
“It’s bad enough that we will surrender Afghanistan to the people who brutalized it for decades before we overthrew them,” Center for Security Policy Director Frank Gaffney said. “Far from cutting our losses, I believe this will be a catalyst for far more intensive jihadist activity.”
And outside of Afghanistan, al Qaeda presence has proliferated, even in the wake of bin Laden’s death, in regions including Iraq, Yemen, and Africa, and the terrorist organization’s new leader, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, remains on the loose in Pakistan. Al Qaeda attacks in Iraq have actually increased since bin Laden’s assassination, according to reports.
“Al Qaeda is not a corporate organization,” Bolton said. “It doesn’t have an organizational charter on the wall. It’s a loosely networked organization and it has grown substantially. The consequences of the Arab Spring have served not to undercut the appeal of al Qaeda, but simply to enhance it.”
As America faces the fractured end of a decade-long war and the proliferation of terrorism across the globe, celebrating the anniversary of eliminating a figurehead has seemed inappropriate for many.
“Killing Osama bin Laden happened while (Obama) was president, not because he was president,” Bolton said. “The analogy that I use is Richard Nixon taking credit for Aldrin and Armstrong landing on the moon.”
A group of former Navy SEALs came forward this week to protest President Obama’s use of the Special Forces raid as a political gambit in his re-election campaign.
And a veteran who maintains the popular military blog This Ain’t Hell compared Obama’s grandstanding on the anniversary of the raid to President George W. Bush hanging out a “Mission Accomplished” banner in 2003: unwarranted and without real significance.
“Of course, I’m glad (bin Laden is) dead and I wish he’d been killed sooner. Other than that, I really don’t see the value of bringing it up in an election year,” Jonn Lilyea said. “I think the initial death of bin Laden was a morale booster, but I don’t think these anniversaries serve any purpose, not for troop morale.”