The U.S. killing of Osama bin Laden has important implications for the war in Afghanistan, U.S. relations with Pakistan, and efforts to combat al Qaeda and affiliated terrorist networks. Center for a New American Security (CNAS) experts offered analysis and commentary on this historic development.
Nathaniel Fick, Chief Executive Officer: "The killing of Osama bin Laden is a victory not only for the U.S. military and the families of 9/11 victims, but also for the prospect of rebalancing U.S. foreign policy. Terrorism, even al Qaeda's spectacular brand of it, cannot be the dominant influence on a great power's role in the world. His death allows the United States to focus on other core interests – restoring America's economic strength, developing and implementing more sensible energy policies, and reinvigorating America's relationships with emerging powers around the world. In short, it is an opportunity to turn the page and move beyond the distorted foreign policy narrative of the past decade."
Dr. John Nagl, President: "The war in Afghanistan has always been largely about Pakistan. The Taliban found sanctuaries in Pakistan that allowed them to regroup, survive, and conduct attacks on U.S., NATO, and Afghan forces and civilians. Pakistan now has the opportunity to demonstrate to the world that, despite the fact that Osama bin Laden was found outside the capital, it is committed to combating terrorism. Pakistan’s actions going forward will play a significant role in determining the length and course of the war."
Dr. Kristin Lord, Vice President and Director of Studies: "While the death of Osama bin Laden will not mark the end of terrorism, it is a stunning symbolic victory. Al Qaeda’s narrative has been losing appeal with Muslim publics for years, but it continued to attract and unite extremists around the world. That narrative, as well as the al Qaeda organization, suffered a major blow yesterday and that may be among the most important lasting consequences of yesterday’s operation."
Lieutenant General David Barno, USA (Ret.), Senior Advisor and Senior Fellow: "The death of Osama bin Laden marks the most significant U.S. victory to date in the U.S war on terrorism. Its full consequences will play out in the coming weeks and months, but it is not too early to characterize this event as a true 'game changer' in a decade-long conflict. Bin Laden’s influence came not from his daily command and control of al Qaeda cells around the world, but from the inspiration that his iconic leadership provided. His taunting image, his fiery words and his seemingly unstoppable videos have all served to sustain the motivation of a growing franchise of like-minded groups. Bin Laden’s death unravels that critical motivational thread, one that is unlikely to be replaced. Al Qaeda as a brand built on one man’s personality and apocalyptic vision has just suffered a blow that, over time, may well prove lethal. For now, it remains a deadly, diffused organization – but its end may now be more imaginable."
Dr. Patrick Cronin, Senior Advisor and Senior Director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program: "Osama bin Laden’s provocation strategy sought to coax America to use its enormous powers against itself. Having finally achieved some justice for his crimes, we should now ensure that the American use of force to kill bin Laden does not instigate a radical backlash in unstable, nuclear Pakistan. The United States must use his death as an opportunity for advancing further justice, not further conflict. Specifically, bin Laden’s death provides a turning point in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The United States needs to further pivot from counterinsurgency, which feeds the perception of occupation, to counterterrorism, which requires a sharper discrimination between al Qaeda and the Taliban."
Dr. Nora Bensahel, Senior Fellow and Deputy Director of Studies: "Osama bin Laden’s death means that President Obama will likely face increased pressure to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan sooner rather than later. Since the rationale for the war in Afghanistan has always been justified as a necessary response to the September 11 attacks, many Americans will now believe that purpose has been achieved and it is time for U.S. forces to come home. 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. The president may choose to accelerate the withdrawal of U.S. forces that will start in July in order to reinforce this victory over al Qaeda and to demonstrate that the war in Afghanistan is truly winding down."
Richard Fontaine, Senior Fellow: "The death of Osama bin Laden marks a major advance in the war on terror, but even a damaged al Qaeda remains America’s top national security threat. The United States must now ensure that the next casualty is not the relationship with Pakistan. Successive Pakistani presidents and military officers have said that bin Laden’s whereabouts were unknown. It turns out he was living just 35 miles away from Islamabad, in a city that hosts two army regiments, a number of retired military officers, and a military academy. That is very difficult to understand, and it will be critical to determine whether the problem is Pakistani capacity or Pakistani will. America’s counterterrorism efforts are made easier by Pakistani cooperation, but President Obama has rightly made clear we will act without it when necessary. With the recent worsening of American ties with Pakistan, now is a pivot point in our relations. It is time for a fundamental rethink, on both sides, of where the United States and Pakistan go from here."
Robert Kaplan, Senior Fellow: "The killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. Special Operations Forces might exert a healthy, albeit modest, impact on the evolving Arab Spring. While al Qaeda has spawned franchises and is not therefore dead, bin Laden was a uniquely charismatic figure who could communicate to the Islamic world at large, and his demise could help edge Islamic groups in Egypt, Syria, and elsewhere toward moderation, making successful democratic transitions more probable. It also sends a strong symbol to the Taliban in Afghanistan that the United States is still a potent military force and they would be advised to come to terms with it. In war, morale is a critical factor. And bin Laden's death boosts the morale of American-led forces in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, and hurts the morale of their adversaries."
Tom Ricks, Senior Fellow: "The killing of Osama bin Laden is likely more meaningful to American psyches than it is for the future of the Middle East. It may also sharply increase the pressure on President Obama to get U.S. military forces out of Afghanistan, as a lot of Americans are likely to feel now that the mission has been accomplished, finally.”
Christine Parthemore, Fellow: "While crude oil prices dropped slightly in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death, speculation that it will lead to greater stability in oil exporting countries, and therefore lower gas prices, in the near term is premature. For petroleum market-watchers, top concerns in the coming months should include reprisal attacks within Saudi Arabia – where petroleum infrastructure has always been targeted – and how bin Laden’s death alters the shape of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula given Yemen’s seat at a critical Gulf of Aden transit point. Morphing trends in terrorist activity and global stability will surely impact petroleum prices in the year ahead, but at this juncture the effects of bin Laden’s demise are not clear enough to predict specific effects on the oil market with certainty."
The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) is an independent and nonpartisan research institution that develops strong, pragmatic and principled national security and defense policies. CNAS leads efforts to help inform and prepare the national security leaders of today and tomorrow.