What Bin Laden's Death Means To The Military A team of U.S. Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden during a raid in Pakistan. And since the attacks on September 11, thousands of U.S. troops have died in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Guests discuss how members of the military and their families feel about the death of bin Laden.
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What Bin Laden's Death Means To The Military

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What Bin Laden's Death Means To The Military

What Bin Laden's Death Means To The Military

What Bin Laden's Death Means To The Military

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A team of U.S. Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden during a raid in Pakistan. And since the attacks on September 11, thousands of U.S. troops have died in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Guests discuss how members of the military and their families feel about the death of bin Laden.

Guests

Deb Amos, foreign correspondent, NPR
Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development, University of Maryland
Maj. Gen. Michael Davidson, former assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for National Guard
Tom Ricks, senior fellow, Center for New American Security

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is special coverage from NPR News. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

The son of enormous privilege in Saudi Arabia, Osama bin Laden, took up the fight against Soviet occupiers in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The eventual victory of the Mujahedeen gave him hope that this might provide an avenue for liberation of other Arab lands.

He took his new quest to his homeland, Saudi Arabia, but felt betrayed when his own country, in response to the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, invited the United States to take up military positions in that country, which he saw as a complete violation of everything that the country should stand for.

He tried to take his message of jihad to a new area, to new worlds. He ended up in a bitter fight with the United States and returned to Afghanistan, eventually, to take up the base, al-Qaida, to establish an organization which could fight the near enemies and over throw the Saudi regime, he hoped, and other Arab regimes, which he regarded as puppets of the West but also could attack the foreign enemy, the United States.

Several attacks were launched against U.S. forces, one against the World Trade Center in 1993. Then, attacks against U.S. embassies in East Africa, attack on the United States, the USS Cole, the Navy ship, in Aden. Then the attack on 9/11, and Osama bin Laden became a figure of worldwide, well, renown or notoriety, take your pick.

Osama bin Laden died in a gun battle with U.S. forces in a compound not far from Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, early this morning, Pakistan time.

We're listening to the reverberations of the death of Osama bin Laden in special coverage from NPR News. NPR foreign correspondent Deborah Amos is with us from a studio in Woodstock, New York. She's just back from another visit to the Arab world, including visits to Riyadh and Beirut.

And Deborah Amos, as we consider the career of Osama bin Laden and how he became this worldwide figure of inspiration, to some, and of hatred to so many others, how did Osama bin Laden justify the attacks that killed, well, yes, the West - I think those who study his ideology can say he regarded those as enemies but so many Muslims.

AMOS: That is the most damning, I think - certainly in the parts of the world that I cover - the most damning indictment against Osama bin Laden. He killed far more Muslims, and his ideology and his cadres, than Americans.

It was a perverted way of looking at religion, and there are many, many Islamic scholars who have been speaking out for years against the way that he took particular parts of the Quran and twisted them to justify killing innocent people across the world, not just in the United States but in the Middle East.

We spoke a little earlier about a Saudi program called ideological security, this idea that you send people out into the mosques of Saudi Arabia, on the Internet, and you talk about the Quran.

It doesn't say that. It doesn't say what Osama says it says. And he is using religion in a bad way. And they have been at this program now for some time.

There's a program on Al Arabiya, which is a Saudi-funded television station - I went to their studios in Dubai, and for the last two years, they have had a program on called "The Death Machine." And every week, they do a documentary about what al-Qaida does, how it kills people, how it thinks.

And the idea is to expose that ideology to the light of day, to have Muslims look at what it is that they've taken out of the Quran and twisted. And those programs are rather interesting and somewhat effective.

And I'm thinking about them today, what they will make of the death of Osama bin Laden.

CONAN: Joining us now is Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland, a senior fellow, also, at the Brookings Institution, with us from his office in College Park. And Shibley Telhami, I wonder: As you think of the greater Islamic world today, how will -do you think they greet the death of Osama bin Laden?

Professor SHIBLEY TELHAMI (University of Maryland, College Park): Well, of course, they have been. And in some ways, I've been watching this over the past several hours in terms of reactions, certainly in the Arab world. And they vary a lot.

Pakistan, as you can imagine, is a divided country. So there are people who are mourning the loss and people who see in him a terrorist. And in the Arab world, you find that it varies, as well, people who see him as a terrorist, who's not a big loss, who's hurt more Muslims, to people who are still very angry with America and don't see why America should have the right to act in Pakistan, instead of arresting or going through international institutions, to people like in Benghazi.

And many of the people interviewed in Benghazi say this is not our issue. We're focused on Gadhafi and Libya. So you have a whole variety of reactions.

But I want to say something here that we have to understand in context. You know, in my polling over the past decade about al-Qaida, when I ask people what aspects of al-Qaida do you sympathize with most, if any, and of course a large number say none, no aspect they sympathize with.

But of those who say they sympathize with anything, the majority said they mostly sympathize with the fact that al-Qaida stands up to the U.S. and speaks for their causes, not an embrace of its agenda.

Only roughly six percent across the region said they embrace their agenda. So it was really mostly gaining from the negative, not gaining, you know, because people embrace their agenda.

And when people were angry with America, particularly over Iraq, more than Afghanistan, the Afghanistan war was less controversial in the Arab world, at least, certainly not in Pakistan but in the Arab world, than the Iraq war, and with - you know, pulling out of Iraq with George W. Bush, who was highly disliked in the Arab world, you know, being replaced, a lot of that, you know, went away.

And I think right now, the judgment of al-Qaida is not only in juxtaposition to their feelings toward the U.S. but also in the juxtaposition to their feelings toward the Arab revolutions, which happen to be exactly bin Laden's nightmare.

I mean, he lived long enough to witness his worst nightmare, and that is to see peaceful young people, non-ideological, chanting the same values that America stands for - freedom, democracy, human rights - succeed where he and his group never did in the Arab world. And that had to be very disheartening for him before he died.

AMOS: Shibley, I wonder if I could ask a question. And I've been thinking about the groups, for example, in Yemen, al-Qaida in the Arab Peninsula. They also have watched a revolution in their own country. Now the essential leader of the movement is dead. What does that do to them?

Prof. TELHAMI: Well, I think in the short term, as you can imagine, they will do exactly the opposite, which is to prove that he was not as central, operationally, that they're still there, that they're going to act. And I think that's why the period in the short term is very dangerous.

I think they will see this as an opportunity to assert themselves in a way that they haven't been able to. See, if you think about the reaction to the Arab revolutions, to the Arab uprisings, to the Arab spring, to the Arab awakening, they didn't know how to deal with it. Because most of these guys in Yemen, with all the weapons around, with all the sectarianism, still chanting salmiya, salmiya, salmiya - peaceful, peaceful, peaceful, and that's the power of it.

That's the beauty of it, and they don't know how to deal with it. And so now they have an opportunity, which is not in juxtaposition to the revolution but in juxtaposition to America, to assert themselves again. So I think it's going to be a dangerous period coming up.

CONAN: Shibley, it's interesting, we've been talking about some of the offshoots of Iraq, yes, Iraq in the Arabian Peninsula. We've been talking about Al-Shabab in Somalia.

I wanted to ask you about another organization, though, al-Qaida in Iraq. And this was a place where the great divide of the Muslim world came to the forefront, and al-Qaida in Iraq seemed more interested in killing Shiites, that offshoot of Sunni Islam, than they were in killing Americans.

Prof. TELHAMI: Well, Neal, this is really fascinating, though, if you think about that story about al-Qaida in Iraq and also just related to where bin Laden was ultimately found.

He was found under the noses of Pakistani military, not too far from a military base, not too far from the capital, in an ordinary house, not in a cave. How could he have been hiding there for all these years?

Well, the story of success of al-Qaida is when people are more sympathetic with them than they are with their enemies, they can succeed and flourish. People look the other way around.

When the Sunnis were angry more with America over the Iraq war, al-Qaida could flourish. The more they have opportunities to be part of the system, the more al-Qaida goes on the defensive.

Al-Qaida wins in the negative, by default. That's why it's very important to win hearts and minds not because you can win the hearts and minds of al-Qaida itself, it's a hopeless organization, but it's because they will hide, they will succeed if, in fact, there is more anger with their enemies, particularly the U.S.

And I think that was the story in Iraq. It's the story in Pakistan. And this is the lesson to be learned. It is something that we have - it's despite 10 years of the most effective military in the world, the most effective intelligence in the world - he could still hide under the noses of Pakistani officials and Pakistani military because, undoubtedly, he had a lot of sympathizers.

And that's not because people will embrace him or will want his agenda to be implemented in their country but because they dislike the U.S. more, or they're angry with the U.S. more. And that should be a lesson for us as we move forward.

CONAN: Some people would say, Deborah Amos, that yes, a hard power used effectively by the United States early this morning in Pakistan. Soft power, though, helped changed minds and change the agenda away from bin Ladenism in the form of the iPhones that you were talking about earlier.

AMOS: Indeed, and I was thinking, as, Shibley, you were talking: Where does he die? He dies in Pakistan. Where does he want to have the most effect in the Arab world? He's nowhere near it.

And I wanted to ask about his successor and what this means for al-Qaida.

CONAN: The successor will be, presumably, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the number two, the Egyptian doctor, former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, who presumably takes over the reins as the sheikh, the head of al-Qaida.

Shibley Telhami, thanks very much for your time today.

Prof. TELHAMI: Always my pleasure, Neal.

CONAN: Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, with us from his office in College Park.

When we come back, we're going to focus on the United States military, its role in what happened last night, its role in Afghanistan and Iraq. What happens next? Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. This is special coverage from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is special coverage from NPR News. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

With us is Deborah Amos, NPR foreign correspondent, with us back from her most recent tour of the Middle East and with us from Woodstock, New York, today.

But also joining us is somebody we spoke with a great deal in the days after 9/11, Major General Mike Davidson, retired, former assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the National Guard, with us from Louisville Public Media there in Kentucky. And General Mike, nice to have you back.

Major General MIKE DAVIDSON (Retired; Former Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the National Guard): Thank you, it's great to be back, and I bring you Derby greetings from Kentucky this week.

CONAN: And as we talk about the death of Osama bin Laden, important to remember that other events are going on. The Kentucky Derby is scheduled for next Saturday.

Service members around the globe are celebrating, privately in many cases, the work of their colleagues, the elite Navy SEAL Team 6 and the CIA operatives who accompanied them, who executed Osama bin Laden on Sunday.

Though many celebrate, few are calling this the end of the war on terror. And even if the United States decides to start withdrawing significant numbers of forces from Afghanistan, this summer, in July, Mike Davidson, the long war is nowhere near anywhere close to an end.

Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: It's not. And if you want to find wisdom, sometimes if you go to the soldiers and Marines and sailors and the airmen, they'll give you wisdom. And on your lead-in piece, somebody had a young Marine saying: It's great, but they're still going to try and kill us.

Well, he's exactly right, and writ large, this war is going to go on for a long time.

CONAN: Also with us is - from his home in Maryland is Tom Ricks, veteran military journalist who writes the Best Defense blog for Foreign Policy magazine. And Tom Ricks also a senior fellow at the Center for New American Security.

And Tom Ricks, as this happens, we are in the midst of a changing of the guard. General Petraeus, who - the man who was in command of these forces who left Afghanistan to conduct these missions, is the person in charge in Afghanistan, he's coming back to run the Central Intelligence Agency. Leon Panetta, the CIA chief, about to go off to run the Pentagon, the new secretary of defense if confirmed by the United States Senate. And this is a farewell for Robert Gates, who served of course both President Bush and President Obama, asked to stay on in that role. And this has to be a great moment of satisfaction for him.

Mr. TOM RICKS (Senior Fellow, Center for a New American Security): I think it does. It also makes you wonder what role this operation played in President Obama's mind as he made these personnel moves.

He knew this was coming down the pike, and the White House, in their backgrounder last night, was very clear that this was an operation executed by Field Team 6, naval special operators, under the command of the CIA, so a real joint CIA-military operation, almost to underscore the nature of the Petraeus selection for the CIA.

I think in the short term, there's a lot to celebrate here. But I do think psychologically, it is kind of the end of the long war for a lot of people who have been in it. I was just looking at an email from a friend who sat up drinking shots to fallen comrades last night, and I think that's happened with a lot of people in the military who have been fighting for the last 10 years.

Okay, we did what we came for. The mission really is accomplished. It's time to go home.

CONAN: And I know that's a feeling that you've reported on already from the men who are - and women who are still in Iraq, the dwindling force of, what, still about 50,000.

Mr. RICKS: It is. It's just under there. I'm actually quite worried about Iraq. I think we're seeing Southern Iraq get very shaky right now. An American soldier from the Third Army Cavalry Regiment was killed there on Friday. We're seeing more attacks on Americans down there. And I think the jockeying for post-American Iraq is beginning, unfortunately with tens of thousands of American soldiers still there.

So I think we may find Iraq back in the headlines in a way we don't like.

CONAN: In a way, we're seeing that, as well. By the way, we do want to hear from members of the U.S. military, people who've served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org.

And Tom Ricks, we saw reports last week that Pakistan, the country that, yes, it turned out was harboring Osama bin Laden, was advising the president of Afghanistan, Mr. Karzai, that his future lay with Pakistan and with China and not necessarily with Washington.

Mr. RICKS: Yeah, you know, I've got to tell you. I've been real tired of Pakistan for a while here. And I don't know if it's good policy, but my gut feeling is we should just really distance ourselves from them, tie Afghanistan as much as possible to the Central Asian states north of it.

You know, you've got to look at the situation with bin Laden. He was living on the doorstep of Pakistan's equivalent of West Point, less than one kilometer from there.

You've got to wonder: Who would Pakistan - and how many people in the Pakistani government, and especially in intelligence services, knew he was there. So I think they have a lot of egg on their face this morning or this afternoon. And I would like to see us really take a different course with Pakistan.

CONAN: Mike Davidson, I understand you've been to Abbottabad.

Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: I have, or close to it, just south of it. And I think Tom's absolutely headed along the right track. But we have to remember that Pakistan is the nuclear state with the closest ties to fundamentalist Islam on the planet. So we need to keep a close eye on them. Maybe we don't need as many troops there, but we need to stay engaged.

CONAN: When you say you've been just south of Abbottabad, this is where Pakistan's version of West Point is located.

Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: It is. And Professor Telhami said: Well, how could he be hiding? He wasn't hiding. They knew he was there. Thousands of people had to know he was there.

It would be like 50 miles away from Studio 3, where you're sitting, Neal, is Middleburg. It would be like Raul Castro having an armed compound in Middleburg, Virginia. It stood out like a sore thumb. So it's inconceivable to me that he was actually hiding.

AMOS: I wonder if I can ask a question. And I notice that the Pakistanis did not engage, and I wondered if you, if both of you, thought that it was because they knew: They knew who we were, they knew who bin Laden was, and this was the moment where they just stood back?

CONAN: When you say did not engage, those U.S. helicopters came in, conducted their missions and left with no interference from the Pakistani military. Tom Ricks?

Mr. RICKS: Well, also, you know, you can't have air defenses everywhere. This is not along the border. This is deep in the interior. A Special Operations helicopter comes swooping along, you know, at high speed, 50 feet off the ground, you'd not going to get a lot of chance to engage.

This whole operation was 40 minutes, and as I understand it, most of that time was not the firefight, it was intelligence collection. So it is difficult to respond, you know, deep in your interior when you don't have forces on hand, and it isn't like their little version of West Point was ready to come marching out and deal with this.

You do got to wonder, though, exactly that question, what the Pakistani government knew about this. Did they give him up? Did they say - remember Hillary Clinton was pushing this pretty hard a couple of months ago.

You know, we feel the people in Pakistan know where this guy is. You've got to wonder whether that was a very public prod: Okay, fellows, it's time to give him up.

CONAN: Mike Davidson, a former Ranger, you know something about Special Forces operations.

Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: The single greatest source of failure for this kind of operation is an intelligence leak. And I would be very surprised if Pakistan knew very much about this.

But Tom's right: You're in a helicopter. You're no lights, pilots wearing night-vision goggles, you're 50 feet off the deck, come in, swoop down. I don't think there was a whole lot of coordination with the Pakistan government before this launched.

CONAN: John Brennan, the president's special advisor on counterterrorism, said at the White House earlier today the Pakistanis were not informed until all U.S. aircraft were out of Pakistan airspace. So at least that's the official word. Who knows what was going on later?

Tom Ricks, though, are you surprised that in Washington, D.C., in 2011, that a secret this big was maintained in a closed circle in the White House since last August?

Mr. RICKS: I am. I think it's very impressive. We live in a very leaky country. I used to joke that I could find out anything in Reporter about nuclear weapons. The only thing I couldn't find out was how generals got promoted.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RICKS: That was, you know, the one big secret the Pentagon still held. But here they really did. I mean, and this is not a recent phenomena. If you look at World War II, there were just enormous amounts of leaks in World War II. Americans are talkative people.

A general got drunk in a bar in a hotel in downtown London and blabbed about the date of the D-Day invasion. The Chicago Tribune printed the fact that the Americans had cracked the Japanese naval code. These were bigger leaks than we ever had in the last 20 years in this country. So I'm very impressed that they actually managed to keep the lid on it.

CONAN: We're talking with Tom Ricks, a senior fellow at the Center for New American Security. He writes the Best Defense blog for Foreign Policy magazine, longtime defense writer for the Washington Post.

Also with us, Major General Michael Davidson, retired, former assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs for the National Guard; and Deb Amos, NPR foreign correspondent, with us as well.

We'd like to hear from members of the military and their families about how this changes your perspective on what's happened these past 10 years and how this may affect your future, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. We'll start with Patrick(ph), Patrick with us from Palo Alto.

PATRICK (Caller): Hi, thanks for taking my call. Yeah, I'm very interested in the - or I should say I'm fascinated by the multigenerational nature of our conflict that we're serving in and fighting now.

My service was 20 years ago, during the first Gulf War. And, you know, it never fails to amaze me how, as time has gone by, we seem to be - we seem to have this grade points along the way, like 9/11, like the USS Cole being bombed and now with bin Laden and so on. And the fact that it really is, you know, a tribute to the military culture that we've developed, that we can carry on line this, these long-term multiple deployments, the hardships on the family, all of this is just fascinating. And it is really a tribute to the fact that we've produced this generation of the military. Brokaw called it the greatest generation, the Second World War, but I think we've produced another great generation.

CONAN: General Davidson, I wonder what you think.

Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: We're a learning military. We've learned from our previous mistakes. We had problems with leaks. They solved that problem. Part of the solution, I think, was putting the focus of operations out at Langley. They're better at keeping secrets than we are in the Pentagon. We sent enough helicopters this time. We did not, on the Desert 1 debacle and...

CONAN: Back in 1979, yeah.

Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: '79. And we're - one interesting point and this goes to the fact that we're a learning military. And we don't know why that helicopter crashed, but there are several possible reasons. In the Son Tay recovery in 1970, I think, they, on purpose, crashed a helicopter to get it down immediately. I don't think they would have done that this time.

If you're a helicopter pilot and somebody is shooting at you from a rooftop, that's going to get your attention and, perhaps, the attention was wandering, but we've learned a lot from our previous operations and we get better. And the next one - and there will be another one - we'll be better still.

CONAN: Tom Ricks, about the intergenerational aspect of this, as Patrick mentions, from the first Gulf War 20 years ago and now the tremendous strain of deployments that we talked about in Iraq and then the surge in Afghanistan.

Mr. RICKS: It is striking. And Patrick is exactly right. We have been fighting for a long time. I am stunned to think that people who joined the military after the '91 Gulf War are going to begin retiring at the end of this year. That's a full military career, 20 years, and they're getting out. And we have been at war in Iraq, basically, since 1991 in various forms. But we are flying no-fly zones with aircraft over it and CIA inside it for a long time now.

And we've never really done this before. We've never fought extended overseas wars with an all-volunteer force. And it does bother me as a citizen that one percent of the country is carrying 99 percent of the burden.

CONAN: Patrick, thanks very much for the call.

PATRICK: Hey, thank you, guys.

CONAN: Let's go next to - this is Billy(ph), Billy with us from Little Rock.

BILLY (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Billy. Go ahead, please.

BILLY: I just wanted to say that I'm glad that Osama bin Laden was caught and disposed off. But I don't think it's going to change anything. I also wanted to remind everyone that the Pakistanis are the ones that put the Taliban in Afghanistan, in power in the first place. They have not changed their spot. And they - I feel that they are giving al-Qaida and the Taliban intelligence about movements of American troops. How could they sneak in to Afghanistan without the troops knowing? And also, I know that this has nothing to do with the subject, but I'm convinced that Zardari is responsible for the death of his wife and that - because he didn't want her to be in power in the first place...

CONAN: Billy, you're right. That has nothing to do with our conversation. President Zardari and his former wife, President Benazir Bhutto, who was also killed...

BILLY: Right. But anyway, I don't...

CONAN: But let's get to your other point and that is, Tom Ricks, there's a -you said you were getting a little tired of Pakistan. There are a lot of people who wonder which side Pakistan is on and come down to the conclusion they're on Pakistan's side.

Mr. RICKS: Yeah. And it turns out that Pakistan is not on our side. But there's also - I mean, the reason we have to remain engaged with Pakistan, I think, is one thing, which is they have about - at least 100 nuclear warheads. This goes to Deb Amos' question of why al-Qaida is in Pakistan. Al-Qaida, as I understand it, wanted three things. They wanted American military out of the Middle East. They wanted control of oil revenue. And they wanted nuclear weapons. And that makes Pakistan one of the three prime areas for them.

So I think they would love to see Pakistan break up and those nukes get loose. Now, the Pakistanis keep on saying that's not going to happen. But I don't trust the Pakistanis on that more than I trust them on a lot of other things at this point.

CONAN: And Deb Amos, we've seen incidents of highly-screened guards in Pakistan turning against people that they regard as having committed apostasy at various sites against the most extreme forms of Islam. And a lot of people wonder about Tom Ricks' point.

AMOS: Indeed. And this event and the fact that Osama bin Laden was living a mansion in Pakistan has now raised this issue in the American mind. I think for months, years, this is something that policymakers, journalists, analysts have been all arguing about, what side is Pakistan on.

Now, for the American public, they are going to be munching on this in a very serious way that I haven't - I don't think I've seen this as a public issue as it will - as it is becoming.

CONAN: I'm sure General Davidson would remind us to look at a map and say that unless you're planning to wind up operations in Afghanistan next week, those forces are going to need to be resupplied through Pakistan.

Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: Absolutely. And it's - the war is in both countries. We just have troops in one. And Pakistan, I think, is probably more concerned about India than they are about Afghanistan. It is a complicated, complicated war.

CONAN: We're talking with retired Major General Mike Davidson, with us from Louisville Public Media in Kentucky. Also with us Tom Ricks, senior fellow at the Center for New American Security, blogger for "The Best Defense" on Foreign Policy magazine, and Deb Amos, NPR foreign correspondent. Stay with us.

We'd like to hear from members of the military and their families. How does this change their world as we look toward winding up the mission to Iraq at the end of this year - unless things change - and maybe the start of the draw-down in Afghanistan in July.

I'm Neal Conan. Stay with us. 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. It's special coverage from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is special coverage from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Al-Qaida's attacks on the United States began well before 9/11, and what's been described as the long war has continued for more than - almost 10 years since that event, and is likely to continue for years afterwards. The burden, overwhelmingly, is borne by members of the United States military and their families who have fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, often many tours in one country or the other. They are likely to continue the burden.

The United States Special Forces and operatives of the Central Intelligence Agency were involved last night, Washington time, when they flew helicopters into Pakistan, deep into Pakistan, about 35 miles from the capital, Islamabad, and attacked a compound where Osama bin Laden and members of his family were staying.

Four men, including Osama bin Laden, one of his sons, two men identified as couriers were killed. A woman was also killed, said to have been used as a human shield.

We want to hear from members of the United States military, former and current. 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org.

Our guests are Deb Amos, NPR foreign correspondent, with us today from Woodstock, New York. Major General Michael Davidson, retired, is with us from Louisville Public Radio in Kentucky. Tom Ricks is with us from his home in Maryland. He's a senior fellow at the Center for New American Security and author of "The Best Defense" blog for Foreign Policy magazine.

Let's go next to Paul(ph) - Paul with us from Fort Drum in New York.

PAUL (Caller): Hello, Neal. I've been in the Army for the past 23 years. My unit just got back from Afghanistan about two months ago.

CONAN: That would be the 10th Mountain Division?

PAUL: 10th Mountain Division, 1st Brigade, that's correct. I want to tell you everybody up on post here is quite happy that bin Laden is dead through his own choice when the SEALs came into the compound. But the feeling is that this war is by no means over. You know, that this is a mission accomplished. It's not all of our missions accomplished, and there's going to be a lot of deployments coming up in both Iraq and Afghanistan for everybody still on active duty.

CONAN: When you were there, what did you see that's still needed to be done?

PAUL: There's a whole lot of work to build their security forces to the point where they can take care of their own country. It's not a fast or easy process, and there's a lot of challenges there. Getting that done is really what's necessary to make that country a viable contender for long-term stability.

CONAN: Can you tell us what part of the country you were operating in?

PAUL: We were at the western edge of RC-North in a city called Maymana to the west of Mazar-i-Sharif.

CONAN: To the west of Mazar-i-Sharif, an area that has generally been regarded as secure.

PAUL: Well, there's secure and there's secure. We lost a number of casualties, both killed and wounded there. And there's a pretty heavy insurgent and Taliban presence in that area. In fact, it's growing rather than shrinking as they get chased out of other safe haven areas.

CONAN: And if you had to put an estimate on it, how long might it take, do you think, for Afghan forces to be able to play their part, well, not play their part, but take over?

PAUL: I think it really depends on their desire to do it, to get past the corruption and to get past the petty warlordism that's endemic to that society and to really build a nation rather than a series of interlinked tribal structures.

CONAN: And...

PAUL: It could be a couple of years. It could be 10 more years.

CONAN: And the sacrifices, you think, are worth it.

PAUL: I think we have to make that place stable, or we're just going to be back there 20 years from now, doing it again.

CONAN: And, Tom Ricks, I wondered if you had a comment on that - back 20 years from now, just doing it again.

Mr. RICKS: Yeah. Well, I lived in Afghanistan actually in 1959 to '71. I was a teenager. And as the - as our soldier talked here about interlinked tribal structures, that's what they had when I lived there. It was not a bad thing.

The central government in Kabul was essentially the - it ran Kabul, and it got a respectful hearing in the rest of the country. If we could build up interlinked tribal structures, if we could grow a government from the bottom up that Kabul that might not command but would have to deal with in a serious way, that would not be a bad thing. Building a genuine, centrally-controlled government is a nation-building task of 100 years, and I don't think we should even try it.

CONAN: I wondered, General Davidson, as you look at the situation in Afghanistan at this point, as you know, there were plenty of people in Washington and Afghanistan who said the surge was not what was needed. We needed to be able to mount operations like the one that was mounted last night to carry out strikes against al-Qaida and against the Taliban leadership. We do not need to be involved in a nation-building operation that is going to be ultimately fruitless in no small part due to the corruption that Paul was talking about.

Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: I take exactly the opposite approach. And the bulk of the 10th Mountain is still there up into the fall, and they're doing a terrific job. It's a very good unit. If anybody can succeed in that area, the 10th Mountain can do it. But there's no amount of combat power that can stabilize that situation or, as we might say, win the war. It's going to be nation-building or it's nothing, and that's going to be tough and it may not work. We can be the guarantor of Afghanistan's success opportunity, rather. We cannot be the guarantor of their success.

CONAN: Paul, thanks very much for the call. Good luck to you.

PAUL: Thank you, sir.

AMOS: I wonder if I can ask, gentlemen, a question about - there's so much talk today that the death of Osama bin Laden will change everything in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I wondered if you thought that, or if that's not overblown and sort of first-day reaction.

Mr. RICKS: Tom Ricks speaking here. I think it's tremendously overblown. I think that in the Middle East, my gut sense is that he is a man of the past. There's not a lot that he has to do with, for example, the Arab Spring events we're seeing. So I think that probably the death of bin Laden is psychologically important to Americans but not particularly politically important for the future of the Middle East.

CONAN: General Mike?

Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: I think Tom is exactly right. It's not going to make a great deal of difference. I would tell you, I think we need to remember who we are and what we stand for and who he was and what he stood for. And our stuff is winning in Tunisia, in Egypt and across the Middle East. So the trend is good. The future, I think, is bright. But it has very little to do with Osama bin Laden.

CONAN: Let's go next to Josh, Josh with us from Stockton, California. Josh, are you there? I guess Josh has left us. Let's go instead to John, John with us from Salt Lake.

JOHN (Caller): Hey, how's it going, Neal?

CONAN: Very well, thanks.

JOHN: I just wanted to comment, you know, on this really quickly. I spent several tours in Afghanistan and back-to-back tours in Iraq. And the real story to me here is just the American soldier. You know, they're always going to be there for the people, you know, always doing their jobs constantly. I mean, this is years and years and years of work and, you know, thousands of young men and a father, a son, you know, sisters, mothers, people who didn't come home, you know.

I lost lots of friends, lots of brothers on many tours. And I just wanted to point that out. You know, the American people are very good at, you know, being proud and supportive of our soldiers, but I just wanted to take this moment to point that out.

CONAN: And that's a point that I think a lot of people are making today, John. Thank you very much for making it. But Tom Ricks, is this a finite resource?

Mr. RICKS: First of all, to John, I'd say welcome home.

JOHN: Oh, thank you.

Mr. RICKS: It's good to have you back.

JOHN: Thank you very much.

Mr. RICKS: It is a finite resource. My worry is I think the military budget is going to come down precipitously. And for the last 10 years, the military have had really an unlimited amount of American resources given to it. That's not going to be the case, I think, in the future. And I think the military is going to be surprised at just how much the belt gets tightened.

You know, there's not many people left in the military who remember what is was like in the late '70s, when we had what the Army chief of staff called a hollow military. We have a generation that's known, really, unlimited resources. And so I do worry about this combination of people carrying a terrific burden of duty, of multiple tours of duty, over the last 10 years, and then feeling the nation is not giving them adequate tools to do the job down the road.

CONAN: General Mike, we were hearing earlier, you were mentioning this combined CIA Special Forces operation in Abbottabad last night. And do you think that we are going to see an increasingly paramilitarized Central Intelligence Agency that will be responsible with the Special Forces for carrying out a lot of these kinds of operations? And they are going to be taking up more of the military burden, especially with General Petraeus as the new head of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: Yes, but that - those are symptoms, not causes. What's happening is you're getting a blurring, quite properly, of military intelligence and political goals and means, and that's a very smart thing to do. I don't know if John was in the - John, were you in the 19th Special Forces Group, by any chance?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: Good for you, one-one Bravo. They - we got a great unit out there at Salt Lake that has done multiple tours. But as we blur those military/intelligence/political operations, we're not going to be able to have the military we've had for the last 10 years. I think Tom Ricks is absolutely correct. It's going to have to be a different military and it's going to have to rely on the sort of patriotism and service and love of country that people like John bring to their job every day. It's not a function of re-enlistment bonuses. You can't pay somebody enough to go back for their third and fourth tour.

CONAN: John, thanks very much for the call.

JOHN: You're welcome. Thank you.

CONAN: Tom Ricks, thank you for your time today.

Mr. RICKS: You're welcome.

CONAN: Tom Ricks, a senior fellow at the Center for New American Security. He joined us by phone from Washington, D.C. And General Mike, always good to talk you. Good luck at the Derby on Saturday.

Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: Thanks. Happy Derby to all of you guys.

CONAN: Major General Michael Davidson, retired, with us from Louisville public media. Deb, stay with us.

But I want to go through one more time some of the things that we learned today. President Obama broke the news late last night that U.S. Special Forces had killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Today the president said justice had been done.

President BARACK OBAMA: I think we can all agree this is a good day for America. Our country has kept its commitment to see that justice is done. The world is safer. It is a better place because of the death of Osama bin Laden.

CONAN: A sentiment echoed around the country and around much of the world. Osama bin Laden's death also gives the United States a key victory in the war on terror and leverage against other terror groups. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also had a message today for members of the Taliban.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (U.S. State Department): Our message to the Taliban remains the same. But today it may have even greater resonance. You cannot wait us out. You cannot defeat us, but you can make the choice to abandon al-Qaida and participate in a peaceful political process.

CONAN: Yesterday's operation took place deep inside Pakistan, less than an hour's drive from the capital, Islamabad, yet no one in Pakistan's government or military or intelligence services was involved in planning or carrying out the mission, according to Louis Susman, U.S. ambassador to Britain, who spoke with Sky TV.

Ambassador LOUIS SUSMAN (U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom): We didn't tell anybody about the operation. This was unilateral and the Americans carried it out themselves without giving advance notice to anyone.

CONAN: Which raises any number of questions about the U.S. relationship with Pakistan and what the Pakistanis did or did not know about the massive compound where bin Laden was found. Michigan Democrat Carl Levin heads the Senate Armed Services Committee and said today...

Senator CARL LEVIN (Democrat, Michigan): Well, I think that the Pakistani army and intelligence have a lot of questions to answer.

CONAN: He softened that position a bit, but remains concerned about the future of the U.S./Pakistan relationship. Bin Laden's death will change the leadership and likely the operational structure of al-Qaida. Some argue that it will, in the long run, decrease the terror group's capabilities, but as Republican Peter King, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, reiterated on NBC News today, the United States is on a heightened state of alert for revenge.

Representative PETER KING (Republican, New York): I think al-Qaida will definitely try to avenge this death. We have to be on full alert. We have to be monitoring this very, very carefully, both U.S. installations overseas and also attacks here in the United States.

CONAN: The city of New York took the brunt of the attacks on 9/11 that bin Laden took credit for. Near Ground Zero today in New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg applauded bin Laden's death and underscored that America fulfills its promises.

Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (Democrat, New York City): We made a solemn commitment to the dead and to the living that we would bring to justice those responsible for killing more than 2,900 innocent people. Yesterday, Osama bin Laden found out that America keeps its commitments.

CONAN: The attacks on 9/11 were also among the worst terror attacks in Britain's history. Tony Blair was prime minister on September 11, 2001. He warned all terrorists today that their actions will have consequences.

Former Prime Minister TONY BLAIR (United Kingdom): What this shows is no matter how challenging and difficult and how long it takes, people who commit these acts of terrorism, who kill deliberately large numbers of civilians, totally innocent people, we are going to carry on until the job is done.

CONAN: Among those who lost family members on 9/11, Osama bin Laden's death brought up a decade's worth of difficult, simmering emotions. Vandala James'(ph) father was in the World Trade Center when it collapsed. She said she is satisfied with his death but in no mood to celebrate.

Ms. VANDALA JAMES: That terrible man, he changed the course of life for so many people, including my family and me. And it only seems appropriate that instead of rejoicing it - again death - that, you know, I bring these flowers to remember my father.

CONAN: Less than 24 hours since the death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. Deb Amos, as we look toward the future, you spoke earlier about Osama bin Laden at his death being somewhat irrelevant. We do have to remember that a protest movement in Syria is in the process of trying to establish itself against a repressive central government in Damascus. And in Libya, fighting is underway in places like Misrata, as the rebels there try to displace Colonel Gadhafi.

AMOS: I've been thinking about that today, Neal, and actually getting emails from my colleagues in Benghazi who are listening to us, because, you know, the Arab Spring news coverage will take a vacation for a couple of days, as we think about the past and this chapter. But the future is really about those revolutions and what is happening in Syria and in Benghazi. It is a different mindset than we've ever seen, a change in the Middle East that I haven't seen for many, many years. And I think that once we are finished with this coverage, we will go back to a much more engaged coverage of this Arab Spring, which is incredibly important.

CONAN: Let's see if get one last caller in. This is Farlan(ph). Farlan with us from Plainwell(ph) in Michigan. And, Farlan, I'm afraid we just have about a minute.

FARLAN (Caller): Yes. I'm a wounded vet and lost some friends in Iraq. And this is a great day, and we've been celebrating, me and my military buddies. But I'm kind of hurt that - and I agree with your guest, that it's not equally - the pain is not equally distributed across our country. There's a small group that are dealing with this, the soldiers and whatever, and while everybody's celebrating, you know, and they should, I feel like I - I've been seeing a lot of comments on Facebook from my peers, some of them making comments like, what's the big deal?

That just goes to show that it's not a unified generation, like perhaps World War II and whatnot, and it kind of hurts me that it's not - while the country is celebrating, it's not - they don't really - aren't invested like a lot of the soldiers and the people that have lost family members. I just - I don't know...

CONAN: I think you said it perfectly, Farlan. Thank you very much for the call. We appreciate it.

FARLAN: Thank you.

CONAN: And this, finally, from Boise, Idaho and Judith: My daughter served on the USS Carl Vinson on 9/11. The ship hastened to the Arabian Sea, and the first response to the attack was flown off the deck of this aircraft carrier. They were out of communication for weeks. How ironic that bin Laden's body was prepared for burial on this ship.

We thank her for that email. We thank all of you for your emails and your calls. Stay tuned for more on NPR News as the day continues. Deb Amos in Woodstock, New York, thank you for your time today.

AMOS: Thank you. Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: You've been listening to special coverage from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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