“This time of war began in Afghanistan, and this is where it will end. … With faith in each other, and our eyes fixed on the future, let us finish the work at hand and forge a just and lasting peace.” – President Barack Obama
On May 2, 2011, Obama addressed the nation to confirm the death of Osama bin Laden, the world’s most notorious terrorist. The al Qaeda leader, responsible for the attacks on September 11, 2001, was killed in a raid of a compound outside of Islamabad, Pakistan, a former safe haven where bin Laden evaded capture for nearly ten years.
The evening of President Obama’s announcement was one of many emotions. Waves of relief, solace, confusion, and jubilation ripple through the nation. They finally captured bin Laden. The death of my loved one on 9/11 has been avenged. Will the troops come home now? Why was bin Laden killed and not captured to stand trial? Let’s head to the White House, it’s a celebration!
These feelings swept over the American landscape as September 11 touched each of our lives marking the beginning of the nation’s longest war. It changed the way we fly; forever augmented the New York skyline, touched the lives of every military family, and gave the United States a common enemy.
A year since bin Laden’s death TSA regulations remain largely unchanged, a memorial to the World Trade Center victims was unveiled, an end to formal deployment in Iraq sent some troops home for the first time in years, our common enemy was weakened and new Muslim extremist groups emerged.
One needs look no further to the events on May 1, 2012, to understand the complexities of fight against terrorism and threats to the United States that remain.
On the eve of the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death, the president met with Afghan President Karzai to sign a treaty ensuring full American military engagement until 2014 and the presence of U.S. security forces through 2024.
“There’s a light on the horizon,” President Obama declared in his eighth presidential address to the nation, his first from abroad.
Yet the same day the president declared imminent victory the “dark cloud of war” descended following his departure. Three explosions shook the eastern part of the Afghan capital killing five civilians and one guard, an al Qaeda attack in retaliation to the U.S./Afghanistan treaty.
The bombings along Jalalabad road encapsulates the troubled relationship between the United States and its allies in combating global terrorism. The death of bin Laden and the weakening of al Qaeda’s leadership and communication network have not overshadowed an American war racked with scandal, tragedy, and questions of ethics in the eyes of those abroad.
Despite President Obama’s efforts to temper Islamophobia, actions such as the burning of the Holy Koran on an American military base in Afghanistan incited anger from moderate and extremist Muslims alike. And just one month later, U.S. Army Sergeant Robert Bales was charged with the murder of 17 Afghan civilians including 9 children, further damaging the already strained Afghan-American relationship.
Adding greater turmoil to the United States’ diplomatic relations in the Muslim world, the use of drone strikes to destroy terrorist cells in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia has been harshly criticized for its potential illegality.
And though President Obama assured troops at Bagram Air Field that, “America is safer today because of you,” the Department of Defense asserts that al Qaeda offshoots present the nation’s biggest terror threat.
Some argue that the anger and resentment felt towards the United States, the same sentiments that led to the attacks on September 11, persist in certain pockets of the world because changes to American diplomacy in the Muslim world and not only its military strategies are needed to change the tide.
Although the Arab Spring across the Middle East and Northern Africa, forced the United States to reevaluate its prior support of authoritarian regimes in Islamic nations, its public denouncement of mass killings in Syria are juxtaposed with silence on the murders of civilian protestors in Bahrain, home to the Fifth Naval Fleet that serves as the anchor of American military strategy in the region.
The reluctance to denounce human rights violations in Bahrain coupled with Congress’ refusal to close Guantanamo Bay prisons and the enduring lack of improvement in the military tribunal system’s transparency tarnish the nation’s global image and its reputation as a self-professed champion of democracy worldwide.
One year after capture and death of Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda–the face of global terrorism–is weakened. Nevertheless threats to American security have not dissipated but diversified and U.S. foreign policy remains unchanged.