The impact of Osama Bin Ladenís death on ISAF

Monday, 2. May 2011     0 comment(s)
Charly Salonius-Pasternak
Senior Research Fellow - The Global Security research programme

Many Americans still feel protecting the U.S. from Al-Qaeda is the chief rationale for the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. For many of them Bin Ladenís death removes this rationale. What are possible repercussions?

Osama Bin Ladenís death will have a number of consequences, throughout the world, in the United States, and in Afghanistan. Bin Ladenís death will also have an impact on the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.

In the U.S., there will be an increase in the number of people who in general view President Obamaís performance more positively and specifically with regard to Afghanistan. This will halt a slide in the polls that President Obama has suffered with regard to his handling of the situation in Afghanistan. In a mid-April Washington Post-ABC News poll 44% of respondents approved of how Obama was handing the situation in Afghanistan and 49% disapproved. This was the first time more people disapproved of Obamaís handling of Afghanistan than approved. In April 2009, 63% of respondents had approved and 26% disapproved Obamaís handling of Afghanistan. Polls also show that about 60% of Americans oppose the war in Afghanistan and that about half think the U.S. should withdraw its troops from Afghanistan as soon as possible.

The original reason for the U.S. attack on Afghanistan was to neutralize Al-Qaeda, capture Osama Bin Laden and cause the downfall of the Taleban, who were protecting Bin Laden (among other AQ leaders). Many Americans still feel protecting the U.S. from Al-Qaeda is the chief rationale for the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. For many of them Bin Ladenís death removes this rationale. What are possible repercussions?

President Obamaís poll numbers for his handling of the situation in Afghanistan will undoubtedly increase in the next round of polls. This does not mean public support for the war in Afghanistan will increase, though support for the war is also likely to temporarily increase. (Obamaís personal poll numbers and the publicsí view on a range of issues have for some time been divorced from each other). After the initial euphoria caused by the killing of Bin Laden, it is likely that the public at large will become increasingly frustrated at the continuing U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

Reduced American public support for the war in Afghanistan is likely to increase pressure on President Obama to withdraw more troops in the summer and fall of 2011 than was anticipated. It is unclear whether this increased pressure will have an impact on Obamaís decision. However, the upcoming departure of General David Petraeus as ISAF commander makes it slightly easier for President Obama to withdraw more troops, since it was likely that General Petraeus would have (somewhat publicly) urged President Obama to withdraw as few troops as possible, a few thousand at the most.

Bin Ladenís death is also likely to have an impact on ISAF and countries that contribute to ISAF: (1) Should the U.S. increase the pace of its withdrawal from Afghanistan, other countries are likely to follow suit. (2) It is unlikely that the agreements between NATO and the government of Afghanistan that aim for the complete transfer of lead-security responsibility to Afghan forces by 2014 will be affected by Bin Ladenís death. (3) Bin Ladenís death is not likely to directly impact ISAF operations, but its symbolism can be used in efforts to shape public perceptions in the region.

Texts reflect the opinions of the individual authors

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