Now That Osama bin Laden is Dead, Have We Won the War on Terror?

May 13th, 2011

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 marked the beginning of the Nation’s declared “War on Terror,” and as the mastermind of those attacks, Osama bin Laden became the world’s most wanted terrorist. Following the 9/11 attacks, federal, state, and local government agencies emphasized the improvement and revision of current efforts in emergency planning, public safety, and counterterrorism strategies. Just as the date of September 11, 2001 is an historic date in our lives, May 1, 2011 will also be a date that is embedded in the minds of all Americans, because that is the day Bin Laden was finally brought to justice. But what does Bin Laden’s death mean for the Nation’s War on Terror?

In traditional world conflicts, the surrender or death of a leader often marks the end of the war, but the war on terrorism should not be viewed as a conventional war. Several conflicts in our history, such as the Nation’s entry into World War II, were marked with significant events that both began the conflict (i.e., the Japanese attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor) and subsequently ended the war (i.e., the United States’ use of atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki). Can we state with certainty that the death of this terrorist leader was significant enough to mark the end of the war on terror? In a word, no: Osama bin Laden had many followers, some known, but many unknown, to our intelligence community, and it is likely that these followers will attempt to continue where Bin Laden left off.

Yes, multitudes of Americans gathered in the streets to celebrate the end of Osama bin Laden, but in other parts of the world, the celebration was subdued. In fact, in our Nation’s public safety community, police chiefs, emergency managers, and homeland security executives are well aware that not only is the war on terror not over, but the death of Bin Laden is only the end of one chapter on our fight against terrorism and the beginning of a new chapter. How do we keep our Nation safe against the next Osama bin Laden?

Published reports revealed that, among the documents seized from Bin Laden’s compound after his death, was intelligence information that our public railways were one potential target of a future terrorist attack. What measures do we now take to make our rail transportation infrastructure safer? Is now the time to shift the focus from strengthening security measures at our Nation’s airports to heightening protection of our railways? Emergency managers who I have spoken to emphatically state their jobs will not become any easier because of the death of Osama bin Laden. In fact, the level of preparedness will not decrease, but will actually increase. While Bin Laden’s death was a huge victory for America, it will only intensify our efforts to prepare, respond, and mitigate those incidents that we may face in days to come.

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