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Bin Laden raid: A model for how US should fight Afghanistan war?

The US is now waging a troop-heavy counterinsurgency to win Afghan hearts and minds. But the bin Laden raid has boosted critics, who say the Afghanistan war should involve smaller forces and a greater reliance on targeted strikes.

By Anna MulrineStaff writer / May 10, 2011

Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, is seen in flames after it was attacked May 1.

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Washington

With the death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of a special operations force commando team on May 1, calls are intensifying to pull US troops out of Afghanistan more quickly and change US strategy in what has become America’s longest war.

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After all, the argument goes, it was strikes by unmanned US Predator drones that ultimately drove Mr. bin Laden from the ungoverned tribal areas of Pakistan to the comparative affluent garrison town of Abbottabad, and it was US intelligence agencies that found him there. A premier team of Navy SEALs proved how effective the US military can be in small numbers.

Vice President Joe Biden and other US officials have long been advocating for America to end its troop-intensive counterinsurgency strategy of winning hearts and minds, and instead opt for a “counterterrorism” strategy, scaling back the number of soldiers on the ground and concentrating on promptly striking terrorist cells when they crop up. The bin Laden raid has now become their Exhibit A.

The "Biden" view, however, still has its share of opponents. The notion of a smaller, more flexible military relying on special forces strikes was tried – and failed – in Iraq before the surge, they say. To abandon the Afghan surge now, when it is beginning to show some signs of progress, would be to ignore the lessons of Iraq, they add.

In 2009, the Pentagon and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton ultimately prevailed in convincing President Obama that a surge of US troops was needed in Afghanistan, with 100,000 currently fighting throughout the country today. But the bin Laden operation has now given critics of that approach fresh momentum.

“I hope the killing of bin Laden signals the chapter of our military being extended in that part of the world will end, and we will conclude that actionable intelligence and clandestine operations will allow us to deal with our enemies effectively,” says Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D) of Ohio, a member of the Defense Appropriations Committee.

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