Bin Laden's Gone -- Now Let's End the War

By David Cortright 05-03-2011

The killing of Osama bin Laden brings partial closure to the long war against al Qaeda. It is a credit to the police, intelligence, and military Special Forces professionals who carried out the job, and to President Obama for maintaining persistent focus on eliminating the threat from al Qaeda.

This is an occasion for many Americans to celebrate, but it is also a time for reflection about the war in Afghanistan and the necessity of bringing it to a close.

Last year CIA Director Leon Panetta acknowledged what many analysts already know -- that al Qaeda's presence in Afghanistan has dwindled to insignificance. In June 2010, Panetta told ABC News that the total number of al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan is "relatively small. At most, we're looking at 50 to 100, maybe less."

In the wake of Panetta's revelation, some asked why it is necessary to maintain 100,000 U.S. troops, with tens of thousands of additional soldiers from other countries, to wage war against fewer than 100 fighters. In fact, this is not a war against al Qaeda, but against the Taliban. Continuing the war is not necessary or helpful to the essential task of preventing global terrorist attacks.

Yes, the Taliban are reprehensible. They provided safe haven for al Qaeda 10 years ago. But they do not pose a threat to the security of the United States or our allies.

Consider this: There has not been a single reported incident of a Taliban fighter participating in a terrorist attack outside Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Taliban insurgents are motivated primarily by local concerns. They are fighting us not because they want to attack our country, but because we are fighting in their country.

Now is the time to declare victory and begin military withdrawal.

[Read David Cortright's article "Finding the Way: Why it's time to end the war in Afghanistan, and how to do it," in Sojourners' March 2011 issue.]

David Cortright, a Sojourners contributing writer, is director of policy studies at Notre Dame's Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. He is author of Ending Obama's War: Responsible Military Withdrawal from Afghanistan (Paradigm Publishers, 2011).

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