News of Osama bin Laden’s death Monday raced through the tents and plywood buildings that make up the headquarters of the 101st Airborne Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team at Forward Operating Base Sharana, Afghanistan.
Within minutes of the president’s televised announcement, brigade leaders met for a daily battle update briefing, and soldiers checked in by cell phone with buddies on other parts of the base.
Task Force Currahee is on its second deployment to Afghanistan, responsible for counterinsurgency operations in Paktika province. Soldiers smiled as they discussed the demise of the mastermind behind the deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans and other nations’ citizens in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center 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.”
Back in the United States, Georgia’s elected officials reflected on the momentous occasion.
“What happens in the hereafter to a man whose life caused the death of so many innocent people is left up to God. Our job is to continue the fight against terrorism, which he raised to the highest level,” Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., said. “Osama bin Laden’s legacy in America is more government security, more checkpoints, less personal freedom, more war and an end to our relative isolation and peace as we knew it. While the world is better off without him, his hatred lives on in his followers and we must remain ever vigilant on their next move.”
Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., praised the agencies responsible for tracking and bringing down the terrorist.
“This is a historic moment for the U.S. special operations and intelligence communities. I highly commend the special operations units who undertook this mission and carried it out with no injuries to women or children inside the compound,” Chambliss said. “The CIA and others in the U.S. intelligence community did a phenomenal job over several months in carrying out this assignment.”
Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., also commended the involved parties’ security work and research but cautioned against becoming complacent.
“This is an historic moment that brings to a close an unfortunate chapter in American history. This day comes as a result of the hard work by the Central Intelligence Agency, the national security agencies and especially our military,” Isakson said. “We have hunted down and killed the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, but we must not stop here. The threat of terrorism still exists and we must remain steadfast in our mission to eradicate it around the globe.”
No one understands that better than Born, who said the task force will analyze the effects of the al-Qaida leader’s death within its area of operation during 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 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 who 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.