Osama bin Laden's death presents a milestone for sober evaluation and planning concerning Afghanistan, where U.S. troops have been in a killing war for almost 10 years.
What has occurred?
What should come next?
Terrorism has not been defeated, and may flare up in retaliation for bin Laden. But if the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan was to root out bin Laden and dislodge his murderous henchmen harbored by the Taliban government, it is reasonable to ask how much of that mission has been accomplished.
The Taliban, though still robust in rebellion, no longer holds power.
Al-Qaida's Afghanistan presence is belied by the fact its now-dead commander's infamous $1 million home for five years has been elsewhere, in neighboring Pakistan. These facts may not shout "Mission accomplished!" but what further developments would? We don't know for sure, but we would like to find out.
At the same time, the substantial U.S. military presence in Afghanistan could be credited with bringing about the Taliban's ouster, al-Qaida's displacement and bin Laden's death. Would any of this have happened without the U.S. invasion? Again, we do not know for sure but it would be good to find out.
We prefer dealing with terrorism as President Barack Obama did — with surgical, military strikes by specialized troops. In and out with minimal risk, minimal involvement and maximum effect.
But we wonder whether the result or the intelligence gathering that informed Navy SEALs would have been possible without the large allied military presence in neighboring Afghanistan.
In order to get answers, and to deal with information and not just speculation, we call for a thorough evaluation of what led to this point, what worked and what was futile. This assessment should be conducted as expeditiously and publicly as possible. The American people deserve to know what policies and practices worked, or didn't, before new military action is authorized.
Like Vietnam, Afghanistan presents a persistent guerrilla enemy. Fighting has dragged on so long that U.S. public support has waned. Costs mount, and victory is undefined. It seems unlikely Afghanistan will look different anytime soon. The status quo could continue for decades.
Mighty as it is, the U.S. military is an imperfect tool for defending America. It certainly is not a tool for righting all the world's injustices.
It's simplistic to announce victory and bring our troops home. But might a thorough assessment dictate that conclusion?
We prefer the troops come home as soon as possible. But also know there is much we don't know. Let's find out and air the facts. This is imperative before another terrorist attack presents us with another Afghanistan, and Washington reacts reflexively rather than reasonably. While we support necessary military action, an overused and undereffective military is counterproductive to keeping America safe.
REPRINTED FROM THE NEW BERN SUN JOURNAL.