Excerpted from “TORA BORA REVISITED: HOW WE FAILED TO GET BIN LADEN AND WHY IT MATTERS TODAY
(pdf),” COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN RELATIONS
UNITED STATES SENATE, NOVEMBER 30, 2009
sama bin Laden’s demise would not have erased the worldwide threat from extremists. But the failure to kill or capture him has allowed bin Laden to exert a malign influence over events in the region and nearly 60 countries where his followers have established extremist groups. History shows that terrorist groups are invariably much stronger with their charismatic leaders than without them, and the ability of bin Laden and his terrorist organization to recover from the loss of their Afghan sanctuary reinforces the lesson. Eight years after its expulsion from Afghanistan, Al Qaeda has reconstituted itself and bin Laden has survived to inspire a new generation of extremists who have adopted and adapted the Al Qaeda doctrine and are now capable of attacking from any number of places. The impact of this threat is greatest in Pakistan, where Al Qaeda’s continued presence and resources have emboldened domestic extremists waging an increasingly bloody insurrection that threatens the stability of the government and the region. Its training camps also have spawned new attacks outside the region—militants trained in Pakistan were tied to the July 2005 transit system bombings in London and several aborted plots elsewhere in Europe.
Closer to home, the Federal Bureau of Investigation says two recent suspected plots disrupted by U.S. authorities involved longtime residents of the United States who had traveled to Pakistan and trained at bases affiliated with Al Qaeda. One of the plots involved two Chicago men accused in late October of planning to attack the Danish newspaper that published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad. In the other, an Afghan-born man who drove a shuttle bus in Denver was arrested on suspicion of plans to detonate improvised explosives in the United States. Court papers said the man had been trained in weapons and explosives in Pakistan and had made nine pages of handwritten notes on how to make and handle bombs.
For American taxpayers, the financial costs of the conflict have been staggering. The first eight years cost an estimated $243 billion and about $70 billion has been appropriated for the current fiscal year—a figure that does not include any increase in troops. But the highest price is being paid on a daily basis in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where 68,000 American troops and hundreds of U.S. civilians are engaged in the ninth year of a protracted conflict and the Afghan people endure a third decade of violence. So far, about 950 U.S. troops and nearly 600 allied soldiers have lost their lives in Operation Enduring Freedom, a conflict in which the outcome remains in grave doubt in large part because the extremists behind the violence were not eliminated in 2001.