Is Osama in Afghanistan? (And does it matter anymore if we kill him?)

Thanks to having the word “Kunar” in my Google Alerts, I received this story in my electronic mail account this morning. Quoting an interview from Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik,  I learned that “Osama is in Afghanistan, probably Kunar, as most of the activities against Pakistan are being directed from Kunar.”

The minister went on to say drone strikes were futile and that  NATO forces on the Afghan side of the border were a joke. He recommended NATO take their cues from the Pakistani Army, who have set up “1000 checkpoints” compared to the 100 NATO checkpoints, of which Malik says only 60 are any good. He backed up his Osama statement by saying that if Bin Laden “were in Pakistan, we would know it, because of the thousand of troops we have sent to the tribal areas in recent months.”

Okay, sure, whatever. Maybe he knows where Bin Laden is, maybe he doesn’t. That seems pretty much similar to the American body of knowledge concerning Osama’s whereabouts, too.

I’m going to take this moment to ask: would it matter if we did know where Osama was, and killed him? Of course, it would matter–it would be a decent PR victory and be an even greater boost for President Obama’s national security credentials. It would dominate the news cycle for a few weeks, give us a moment of victory in the war on terror.  Our national desire to finally get some justice over what happened on September 11th would be partially sated (the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and tens of thousands of Afghan killed in the wake of 9-11 not quite doing the trick, though most of the dead have at least shared the same skin color as the hijackers.)

But other than the brief exhilaration of good, clean, revenge, not much else would be effected. We’d still be committed of years more of fighting in Afghanistan, we’d still be launching drone attacks in Pakistan, we’d still be taking baby steps towards withdrawing from Iraq. Soon enough, a new Bin Laden-like face would pop up to fill the void. And so the war on terror would continue, albeit with the highest profile turban hanging from our belt.

In these thoughts I’m not alone. As the Atlantic’s  Robert D. Kaplan wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed last fall: “If we did, by chance, capture or kill Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, would Afghanistan still matter?” Kaplan’s answer is yes, Afghanistan would still matter, because “the fate of Euraisa hangs in the balance.” (His answer isn’t as convincing as the first part of the essay, where he poses questions that tell us why Afghanistan actually shouldn’t matter anymore if we killed Bin Laden.)

Anyway. I suppose my point, if I can be accused of having one, is how divorced our intial reasons for the war in Afghanistan (get bin laden, kill AQ leadership) have become from what we’re actually doing there now. Pakistan’s interior minister says Osama is in Kunar, and it’s greated with what? A yawn? Ignored? And the recent Helmand offensive is a prime example of how far astray we’ve travelled from the simple days of the manhunt; Helmand is being called a counterinsurgency operation, not a counter terrorism operation because it doesn’t have much to do with protecting us from terrorists, or killing terrorists.  And I’m not too convinced that the “fate of Eurasia” is something we know how to balance.


About michaelhastings

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4 Responses to Is Osama in Afghanistan? (And does it matter anymore if we kill him?)

  1. Michael Peck says:

    We’re suffering from Bin Laden fatigue. Too many alleged “sightings” over the years. I occasionally wonder if he’s still alive, and Al Qaeda has been cleverly deceiving us all these years.

    Either way, Bin Laden has had his 15 minutes of infamy. He is now an irrelevancy. After eight years in a cave, the younger jihadists would probably consider him an anachronism.

  2. libtree09 says:

    It certainly would have made a point if we managed to nail the man within the time frame that brought us Saddam, it would have been a quick lesson in justice or at least good old fashioned Wyatt Earp “…don’t f**k with us” moment.

    However, the effort to nail this guy reminds me of another historical reference when a President sent our greatest general of the time, Pershing, to catch another terrorist who dared thread on us, one Poncho Villa. We sent the most technological advanced force into the Mexican deserts and mountains while Poncho just laughed at us. Never found the guy, never got close enough to fire those fancy machine guns.

    I, for one, would like us to catch the guy. Would it cause more problems than it is worth? Does the guy have some great CIA stories to relate? Who knows but it is a bit of an embarrassment to Bush and to Wilson in the past who finally just said screw it and sent an exhausted army home leaving Poncho to his own devices.

  3. chuckebeling says:

    I agree Michael. Our “revenge” has already cost us thousands of lives, and hundreds of thousands in the middle east, not to mention the trillion or so dollars. The way we’ve gone about it has also cost us the respect of much of the free world, and in the not-so-free regions too. If Bin Laden should be captured, let’s put him in a room with Dick Cheney. I assume Cheney will roll out his inquisition kit.

  4. Brian In NYC says:

    “would Afghanistan still matter?””

    Yes it still matters and in my opinion has nothing to with the future of Eurasia. Something that seems to get lost in this discussion of Afghanistan and something I find very disturbing in my fellow liberals is the little concern shown for the future of the Afghans (especially the females). I’ve yet to hear a valid argument for abandoning the people of Afghanistan to the Taliban. I’d like for at least one of my fellow liberals to explain to me why the people of Afghanistan deserve any less of our compassion and concern than say for example the people of Darfur or Rwanda.

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