Monday, May 2, 2011

Task Force Assesses Likely Impact of bin Laden’s Death

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

FORWARD OPERATING BASE SHARANA, Afghanistan, May 2, 2011 – News of Osama bin Laden’s death raced through the tents and plywood buildings that make up the headquarters of the 101st Airborne Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team here this morning.

Within minutes of the president’s televised announcement brigade leaders met this morning in their daily battle update briefing, and soldiers checked in by cell phone with buddies on other parts of the base: “OK, just wanted to be sure you heard.”

Task Force Currahee is on its second deployment to Afghanistan, responsible for counterinsurgency operations in Paktika province. Soldiers here smiled as they discussed the death of the terrorist responsible for murdering nearly 3,000 Americans and other nations’ citizens in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

Army Maj. Rob Born, brigade operations officer, said bin Laden’s death won’t require the task force to change its operations significantly.

“The assessment was in many ways, he was more of a symbolic, moral and figurative leader than he was involved in the command and control of day-to-day operations,” Born said. “I think we will find out whether or not that hypothesis was true, and what the impact is.”

He said the task force will analyze the effects of the al-Qaida leader’s death within its area of operation over the coming days and weeks.

“We definitely expect and anticipate retaliatory attacks,” he said. “[But] if they’re hasty and not well planned, it’s not going to work out well for the insurgents.”

Born said bin Laden’s death is a validation of the nation’s efforts to combat terrorism.

“I think it’s a tremendous achievement,” he said. “It shows that persistence and attention to detail, agility, flexibility, working together with special operations forces and the intelligence community – it pays off.”

The positive demonstrations outside the White House and in New York City during Obama’s announcement were encouraging, Born said.

“It just shows that the American public is really engaged in what’s going on, and they take pride in the achievements of their armed forces,” he said. “That really was the best thing that I saw.”

Army Capt. David McKim, the brigade’s assistant intelligence officer, termed bin Laden’s death an example of how his profession operates.

“That’s truly how it does work for us,” he said. “Things don’t happen instantly, sometimes. A lot of our successes take time to build.”

He said for his shop, the mission in Regional Command East remains finding the enemy in Paktika and protecting the soldiers and population.

Enemy forces the task force faces in Paktika are not necessarily closely linked to al-Qaida, McKim said, though many in Regional Command South are.

Insurgents in Paktika are likely to respond to bin Laden’s death in one of two ways, McKim said: their morale could suffer, or their activities could increase in retaliation.

The al-Qaida leader’s death comes at a time when I think everybody had given up,” he said. “They thought, ‘He’s either dead, or we’re not going to find him.’ But that’s how things work in our business – you don’t know when.”

The fact that the military did find bin Laden “gives you that justification that yes, we are doing the right things,” McKim said.

In the overall counterinsurgency campaign, McKim said, bin Laden’s death is a powerful counter to enemy propaganda, which claimed America would never capture him.

There is no likely successor to bin Laden who will have the same stature, McKim said.

“He was tall, he spoke very eloquently, … [he had] power, influence, money,” the intelligence officer said. “Granted, there are lots of other bad guys out there that will try to take his place.”

Other insurgents may now think twice about attacking U.S. and coalition forces, he said.

“I think this is definitely a good thing,” McKim said.

Remarks by The President on Osama Bin Laden

East Room 11:35 P.M. EDT May, 1st

THE PRESIDENT: Good evening. Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.

It was nearly 10 years ago that a bright September day was darkened by the worst attack on the American people in our history. The images of 9/11 are seared into our national memory -- hijacked planes cutting through a cloudless September sky; the Twin Towers collapsing to the ground; black smoke billowing up from the Pentagon; the wreckage of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the actions of heroic citizens saved even more heartbreak and destruction.

And yet we know that the worst images are those that were unseen to the world. The empty seat at the dinner table. Children who were forced to grow up without their mother or their father. Parents who would never know the feeling of their child’s embrace. Nearly 3,000 citizens taken from us, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts.

On September 11, 2001, in our time of grief, the American people came together. We offered our neighbors a hand, and we offered the wounded our blood. We reaffirmed our ties to each other, and our love of community and country. On that day, no matter where we came from, what God we prayed to, or what race or ethnicity we were, we were united as one American family.

We were also united in our resolve to protect our nation and to bring those who committed this vicious attack to justice. We quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al Qaeda -- an organization headed by Osama bin Laden, which had openly declared war on the United States and was committed to killing innocents in our country and around the globe. And so we went to war against al Qaeda to protect our citizens, our friends, and our allies.

Over the last 10 years, thanks to the tireless and heroic work of our military and our counterterrorism professionals, we’ve made great strides in that effort. We’ve disrupted terrorist attacks and strengthened our homeland defense. In Afghanistan, we removed the Taliban government, which had given bin Laden and al Qaeda safe haven and support. And around the globe, we worked with our friends and allies to capture or kill scores of al Qaeda terrorists, including several who were a part of the 9/11 plot.

Yet Osama bin Laden avoided capture and escaped across the Afghan border into Pakistan. Meanwhile, al Qaeda continued to operate from along that border and operate through its affiliates across the world.

And so shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of our war against al Qaeda, even as we continued our broader efforts to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat his network.

Then, last August, after years of painstaking work by our intelligence community, I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden. It was far from certain, and it took many months to run this thread to ground. I met repeatedly with my national security team as we developed more information about the possibility that we had located bin Laden hiding within a compound deep inside of Pakistan. And finally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action, and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.

Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.

For over two decades, bin Laden has been al Qaeda’s leader and symbol, and has continued to plot attacks against our country and our friends and allies. The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al Qaeda.

Yet his death does not mark the end of our effort. There’s no doubt that al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must –- and we will -- remain vigilant at home and abroad.

As we do, we must also reaffirm that the United States is not –- and never will be -– at war with Islam. I’ve made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam. Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims. Indeed, al Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own. So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.

Over the years, I’ve repeatedly made clear that we would take action within Pakistan if we knew where bin Laden was. That is what we’ve done. But it’s important to note that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding. Indeed, bin Laden had declared war against Pakistan as well, and ordered attacks against the Pakistani people.

Tonight, I called President Zardari, and my team has also spoken with their Pakistani counterparts. They agree that this is a good and historic day for both of our nations. And going forward, it is essential that Pakistan continue to join us in the fight against al Qaeda and its affiliates.

The American people did not choose this fight. It came to our shores, and started with the senseless slaughter of our citizens. After nearly 10 years of service, struggle, and sacrifice, we know well the costs of war. These efforts weigh on me every time I, as Commander-in-Chief, have to sign a letter to a family that has lost a loved one, or look into the eyes of a service member who’s been gravely wounded.

So Americans understand the costs of war. Yet as a country, we will never tolerate our security being threatened, nor stand idly by when our people have been killed. We will be relentless in defense of our citizens and our friends and allies. We will be true to the values that make us who we are. And on nights like this one, we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al Qaeda’s terror: Justice has been done.

Tonight, we give thanks to the countless intelligence and counterterrorism professionals who’ve worked tirelessly to achieve this outcome. The American people do not see their work, nor know their names. But tonight, they feel the satisfaction of their work and the result of their pursuit of justice.

We give thanks for the men who carried out this operation, for they exemplify the professionalism, patriotism, and unparalleled courage of those who serve our country. And they are part of a generation that has borne the heaviest share of the burden since that September day.

Finally, let me say to the families who lost loved ones on 9/11 that we have never forgotten your loss, nor wavered in our commitment to see that we do whatever it takes to prevent another attack on our shores.

And tonight, let us think back to the sense of unity that prevailed on 9/11. I know that it has, at times, frayed. Yet today’s achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people.

The cause of securing our country is not complete. But tonight, we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to. That is the story of our history, whether it’s the pursuit of prosperity for our people, or the struggle for equality for all our citizens; our commitment to stand up for our values abroad, and our sacrifices to make the world a safer place.

Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Thank you. May God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America.
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