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The Monitor's View

After bin Laden: Cautionary hopes on Afghanistan war

The death of Osama bin Laden may well hasten the end of the war in Afghanistan. But we don't know that yet, and until the US sees signs of progress, it should stay the course.

By the Monitor's Editorial Board / May 5, 2011



The backchannel word from the Obama administration is that the killing of Osama bin Laden could likely hasten the end of America’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan. One senior official – unnamed in The Washington Post this week – went so far as to say, “It changes everything.”

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After nearly 10 years of war there, let’s hope this is true. But the administration must not let the exuberance of the moment prompt a policy change that’s based on presumption instead of facts on the ground.

For now, the felling of the world’s most wanted terrorist and its effect on the Afghan war must be couched in the conditional, what it could mean.

Bin Laden’s death could light a fire under talks with the Taliban that lead to a political solution in Afghanistan. Taliban leaders hiding in Pakistan may be more willing to negotiate now that they’ve seen stark proof of America’s persistence and willingness to take unilateral action against an enemy deep inside Pakistan.

Experts also point out that the Taliban’s protection of Al Qaeda, a promise made more than a decade ago, is based more on personal ties – a pledge to bin Laden himself, not necessarily his network or ideology. His demise, then, might clear a hurdle to talks, which were beginning to show signs of progress even before Sunday’s raid.

(For an in-depth Monitor report on the prospect for talks, click here.)

The fallout from the killing of bin Laden could, too, help move up plans for withdrawal of US troops in Afghanistan. An initial drawdown is scheduled to start in July, with the bulk of allied forces not expected to leave until the end of 2014.

But the pullout may quicken if Al Qaeda crumbles without its leader. After all, the goal in Afghanistan is to prevent it from ever again becoming a safe haven and springboard for international jihad by Al Qaeda.

Meanwhile, opinion may shift to favor those in the administration and Congress who argue that the way to fight this war is through special operations – like the one on bin Laden’s compound – rather than 100,000 US troops on the ground. Budget constraints, public opinion against the war, and election pressures could reinforce this view.

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