A U.S. Special Operations soldier provides security overwatch from a rooftop during the early morning hours of a clearing operation in Panjwa’i District in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, April 25, 2011. Army photo by Sgt. Daniel P. Shook.
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.