Osama Bin Laden Dead, But Costly War on Terror Goes On

Experts say terrorist's death will not end threat or engagement in Middle East.

May 2, 2011, 2:51 PM

May 3, 2011— -- Osama bin Laden's death puts an end to a chapter that has cost the United States thousands of lives, billions of dollars and countless resources. But it's unlikely to end the U.S. war against terrorism or reduce the resources spent on such missions, though how they are allocated will likely change.

U.S. Navy SEALs killed -- in the words of President Bill Clinton -- "public enemy number one" in a top-secret, risky operation in Abbottabad, Pakistan Sunday night.

The mission itself was unlikely to have cost the U.S. military a substantial amount, experts say. It was conducted by 40 SEALs in the dead of night with four helicopters and lasted about 40 minutes. Any costs associated with the mission would come from the Department of Defense's overall operations and maintenance budget.

It's the hunt leading up to the raid that experts believe was more costly. It likely included aerial predators, unmanned surveillance aircraft, satellite imagery and other high-tech means to pin down bin Laden's location.

U.S. intelligence officials for years had been looking for a messenger close to the al Qaeda leader. They were able to track down his name in 2007 and finally spotted him in 2009. In August, they received a crucial tip that bin Laden was hiding in a mansion in Abbottabad, a city near Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.

The mission that killed bin Laden was only a part of a wider effort, lasting more than a decade, to take out the man who declared in 1998 that it was every person's duty to "kill Americans wherever they are found."

Bin Laden's first major attack is believed to have been in December 1992 at a hotel in Yemen where American troops were staying. Since then, he has been blamed for multiple international attacks -- from the 1998 bombings on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, to the Sept. 11 attacks.

It wasn't until January 1999 that the United States declared al Qaeda a terrorist organization but the Clinton administration, despite intelligence that bin Laden was planning a major attack, was not able to pin down his location.

After Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush launched a wide-scale operation to hunt down the man believed to have planned the terror attacks. That mission was inherited by President Obama, who vowed to continue the fight and promised as candidate that he would conduct military operations in Pakistan with or without permission from the government, if that's what it took.

While the costs of hunting down bin Laden over the years are virtually impossible to calculate, his pursuit has cost the United States trillions of dollars, two wars and thousands of lives.

Domestically, the defense budget has ballooned at an average rate of 9 percent per year since 2000. Overseas, Congress has appropriated more than $1 trillion for military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere since the 9/11 attacks, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The United States spends about $100 billion per year for military aid in Afghanistan, and provides another $6 billion in economic assistance.

The United States has also upped its assistance to Pakistan despite increasingly tense relations with the country. Since 2001, Congress has approved about $20 billion for Pakistan in direct aid and military reimbursements, an amount that is now coming under increased scrutiny. Bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan and the military there did not assist in the operation to kill him, U.S. officials say.

"I think that the Pakistani army and intelligence have a lot of questions to answer given the location, the length of time, and the apparent fact that this facility was actually built for bin Laden and its closeness to the central location of the Pakistani army," said the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.

Bin Laden's death, though huge for the United States, is unlikely to ease the financial burden, observers say.

"The only way you're going to ease the burden -- you're going to make a real impact financially -- is if troops are brought back out of Afghanistan," said Kenneth Katzman, a specialist in Middle East affairs at the Congressional Research Service. "That's where the money is. ... Everything else is just going to be small potatoes."

Some in the Muslim world are calling on the United States to leave Afghanistan now that bin Laden is dead, but the current U.S. strategy is likely to continue as is and his death won't change the course when it comes to fighting terrorism, experts say.

"We never focused the war on terror around one man," said Anthony H. Cordesman, national security analyst and Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "The fact is, from the start, we've had to deal with a much broader set of threats. It has always been not simply bin Laden or the people at the top, but the entire network, the affiliates, the other groups they work with al Qaeda."

"Every threat that existed before his death is still there," he added.

It has, in fact, heightened concerns about revenge attacks. Many say al Qaeda's ideology will survive any one man, even though bin Laden was the movement's founder and leader.

"At an operational level, bin Laden's death may have no immediate effect on the group's activities," Noman Benotman, a former jihadist leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and an associate of bin Laden from 1989 to 2000, warned in a statement. "The ideology of al Qaeda is still alive and is still attractive to many people. This is not the end of the al Qaeda problem."

What may happen is that resources now shift. Already, lawmakers are questioning U.S. aid to Pakistan. New Jersey Democrat Frank Lautenberg became the first to declare publicly that all monetary assistance should be suspended until Congress receives answers from Pakistan about how bin Laden was able to live in Abbottabad, just blocks away from one of the largest military schools in the country.

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