Osama bin Laden Is Killed; Ties with U.S. Further Strained
On May 1, 2011, U.S. troops and CIA operatives shot and killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, a city of 500,000 people that houses a military base and a military academy. A gun battle broke out when the troops descended upon the building in which bin Laden was located, and bin Laden was shot in the head. News of bin Laden's death brought cheers and a sense of relief worldwide.
"For over two decades, Bin Laden has been Al Qaeda's leader and symbol," said President Barack Obama in a televised speech. "The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation's effort to defeat Al-Qaeda. But his death does not mark the end of our effort. There's no doubt that Al-Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must and we will remain vigilant at home and abroad."
While Bin Laden's demise was greeted with triumph in the United States and around the world, analysts expressed concern that Al-Qaeda may seek retaliation. U.S. embassies throughout the world were put on high alert, and the U.S. State Department issued a warning for travelers visiting dangerous countries, instructing them "to limit their travel outside of their homes and hotels and avoid mass gatherings and demonstrations." Some Afghan officials expressed concern that bin Laden's death might prompt the U.S. to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and said the U.S. should maintain a presence there because terrorism continues to plague the country and the region.
"The killing of Osama should not be seen as mission accomplished," former interior minister Hanif Atmar told the New York Times . "Al Qaeda is much more than just Osama bin Laden." Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian doctor who is al-Qaeda's theological leader, will likely succeed bin Laden.
The fact that bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan in a compound located in close proximity to a military base will likely strain the already distrustful relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan. Indeed, Pakistan has long denied that bin Laden was hiding within its borders, and the U.S. has provided Pakistan with about $1 billion each year to fight terrorism and to track down bin Laden. Inside Pakistan, officials and legislators questioned how the military did not detect several U.S. helicopters entering and leaving Abbottabad and wondered about its ability to protect the country and its nuclear arsenal.
In September 2011, members of the Haqqani network, a group allied with the Taliban, launched a brazen attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, firing on the U.S. embassy, the headquarters of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, and other diplomatic outposts. Nearly 30 people were killed, including 11 militants. The U.S. later accused Pakistan's spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), of helping the Haqqani network plan the attack. In fact, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Haqqani network "acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Agency." U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton warned Pakistani officials in October that if they failed to act against insurgent groups like the Haqqani network that attack and kill Americans, then the U.S. would attack them. The Haqqani orchestrated seven synchronized attacks in April in Afghanistan, targeting Parliament and the Green Zone in Kabul and three provinces (Nangarhar, Paktia, and Logar). The assaults highlighted the network's increasing sophistication and effectiveness.
Ties between the U.S. and Pakistan hit a new low at the end of November after a NATO cross-border airstrike from Afghanistan on two positions in northwest Pakistan killed 25 Pakistani soldiers. Civilians and government officials were outraged by the attack and expressed little patience for the continued U.S.-led war on terror being fought their country's border. The circumstances that led to the attack were in dispute, and NATO launched an investigation. Pakistan responded by demanding that the CIA halt its drone program at the Shamsi Air Base in western Afghanistan and shut down supply routes into Afghanistan. Pakistan reopened the route in the summer of 2012, after the U.S. offered a qualified apology for the friendly fire deaths.