published Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

‘A symbolic significance,’ but more work to do

Osama bin Laden dead: U.S. strike kills al-Qaida head
  • photo
    Jeff Ray, right, and Jan Ray of Shanksville, Pa., attach a sign to the fence overlooking the crash site of United Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa., Monday, May 2, 2011. Osama Bin Laden, the face of global terrorism and mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, was tracked down and shot to death Monday in Pakistan by an elite team of U.S. forces, ending an unrelenting manhunt that spanned a frustrating decade. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Some local veterans, politicians and policy experts see the death of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden as a step forward in the fight against terrorism but not a linchpin that will stop violent extremists.

U.S. Army Lt. Kevin Beavers, reached while on the weapons range in Fort Lewis, Wash., said he is happy to see the country follow through on the promise of finding bin Laden, but there’s still work for soldiers like him to do.

“It’s great to know the country you’re serving and fighting for doesn’t just use popular slogans but sticks to them,” he said.

Beavers, a 2003 Soddy-Daisy High School graduate who went on to the U.S. Military Academy with friend Capt. Grant Carriker, said the pair talked after they heard the news. Each was in class the day of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

  • Alexander on Osama bin Laden killing
    While touring neighborhoods in Apison on Monday, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., shared his thoughts on the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

“It’s bittersweet. We finally got the guy, but it still brings back a lot of pain and shock from that day,” said Beavers, who recently returned from a combat tour in Iraq.

Local retired U.S. Army Gen. B.B. Bell, reached by phone Monday, said bin Laden’s death “has a strategic impact of the highest order.”

Bell commanded U.S. forces in Europe and prepared units for deployment to Iraq prior to commanding forces in South Korea before he retired.

LOCAL REACTION

“I need to see it to believe it. I was happy but then I held myself back. How can we really be sure till we see some evidence?”

— Cassie Rutledge, 28, Rossville

“It’s a really great thing that it happened. It finally gives our troops something to celebrate. They feel like they’ve been fighting a war for nothing. This gives them some sort of sense of accomplishment.

“Anybody who thinks this is not a big deal, call some people in New York and see how they feel about it today.”

— Joy Stanfield, 36, Chattanooga

“The assassination is a good thing, but I don’t think it’s going to stop the problem of al-Qaeda. He’s just a figurehead. I don’t believe al-Qaeda is all we’ve been told. I think there’s more to it. Justice will never be served for 9/11.”

— Carl Larson, 52, Chattanooga

“I’m not sure that Osama bin Laden will be the last we hear of al-Qaeda. If we get rid of Osama bin Laden, who is next? I don’t think that really stops them, just makes them mad. It was probably justice to kill him.”

— Tony Pirkle, 48, North Georgia

“I think the world is a better place without him, but I didn’t like all the celebration over it. I thought it was pretty unethical.”

— Roger Carbaugh, 37, Athens, Tenn.

“I was glad the hunt was finally over, and it made me very proud of our troops. I was in fourth grade when 9/11 happened ... that’s when I learned who he was.”

— Katie Owens, 16, South Pittsburg

“I think it’s a wonderful thing. He was an evil, evil person that needed to be exterminated. But it’s not over yet.”

— Bruce Mercer, 63, Chattanooga

“At first like everybody else when I heard it, I thought it was great. But I think we’re celebrating a death. It bothers me that we as a Christian society are celebrating this death and this shooting as much as we are. ...I’m glad he’s dead like everybody else, but then I think, ‘Am I really that glad that they shot and killed somebody like that?’ That’s kind of weird.”

— Theresa Miller, 51, Chattanooga

“I should bring closure for all the people who were really affected by 9/11. I hope it does.”

— Charol Saavedra, 25, Dalton, Ga.

“It’s about time that he is gone and dead. After all of what he did on 9/11, he was a very hated man. He didn’t need to be alive anyways. He needed to be gone. Saddam Hussein and now Osama bin Laden. The world don’t need people like that. They only cause trouble and make everybody hate.”

— Camille Calderon, 40, Chattanooga

“There is no counter-terrorism operational capability that exists like in the U.S. military,” Bell said. “That’s what we do for a living.”

He added that this is a moment for Americans to be proud of the military’s accomplishments, given the complex nature of the bin Laden mission described by President Barack Obama and White House media officials.

“It is a time for America to rejoice in the execution of this mission; meanwhile it’s a time to reflect on our country, what we offer to ourselves and to the rest of the world,” Bell said.

Chattanooga native and Afghanistan War veteran Andrew Exum noted the extreme nature of the mission to capture or kill bin Laden. As a U.S. Army Ranger in Afghanistan, Exum said the closest soldiers ever got to bin Laden was 72 hours, based on intelligence reports.

Exum is now a fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, D.C. The center serves as a policy think tank for national security and defense policies.

He coined the operation a “silver bullet” — a one-shot chance that, if fumbled, can’t be recovered.

“First off, there’s tremendous political risk,” he said. “If you launch a raid deep into Pakistan and something goes wrong, that endangers everything you’re trying to do in Pakistan.”

As a combat veteran and a policy analyst, Exum said he has two feelings about the news of bin Laden’s death.

“The logical side of my head says this isn’t a big deal at all, it isn’t going to degrade al-Qaeda,” he said.

But his first emotional response was to meet with his brother to celebrate with a drink at a Washington, D.C., bar.

“This has tremendous symbolic significance,” he said.

For many Americans, bin Laden put a face on the losses they suffered, from those who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks, to the military families whose members died fighting in wars against terrorist organizations inspired by the radical leader.

One of the ramifications of bin Laden’s death to some experts was clear — it helps Obama’s foreign policy credentials.

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said the successful operation to kill bin Laden burnishes the president’s standing.

“One big advantage that will be tough for Republicans to counter — any charge about defense or national security is likely to elicit a one-name answer from Obama and the Democrats — bin Laden,” he wrote in an email.

Sabato pointed to Gallup poll research that shows spikes in public approval ratings for presidents after foreign policy successes, but many appeared fleeting. He suggested that this victory could be fleeting for Obama as well.

Kurt Piehler, military history professor at the University of Tennessee, said he’s been somewhat surprised by “how tolerant and patient Americans have been about the hunt for Osama bin Laden.”

Piehler said he thought the issue would have been more politicized and that the near-decade it took to find the terrorist leader reflected the limits of American power.

Bin Laden’s death is an easy-to-understand war development like those more common in traditional conflicts such as World War II, he said.

Though there were some public gatherings as news of bin Laden’s death reached Americans, there have been few reported mass celebrations in the streets like those that occurred on V-E Day or V-J Day at the end of World War II.

And he attributes that to the new connectivity.

“There would have been a more visceral response if this had happened in 2002 or 2003,” he said. “I wouldn’t understate the role of social media; it’s harder to get a crowd nowadays.”

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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