The 1995 Tokyo Subway Attacks and 9/11 precipitated an
unprecedented threat to national security for all nations. Both
incidents demonstrated the ability of non-state actors to wreak destruction on
a scale that once required the resources of a nation state. This section
examines the events and characteristics of this new threat and how it presents
a new challenge to preserving the safety and security of the United States.
Homeland security is about safeguarding the United States
from domestic catastrophic destruction. Domestic catastrophic destruction comes
in two forms: natural and manmade. For most of history, the manmade variety
came in the form of warfare and required the combined resources of a nation
state. That changed with the 1995 Tokyo Subway Attacks. It was the first
deployment of a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) by a non-state actor. The
incident caught the attention of nations around the world because national
defenses designed to keep rogue states in check did not work against non-state
Subsequent Congressional and Presidential investigations confirmed that
the United States was unprepared to deal with the threat of WMD employed by
non-state actors. Unfortunately, these same investigations used the word
“terrorism” to describe the new threat. Consequently, many today equate
“homeland security” with “terrorism”.
This is certainly not the case.
As defined in Title 18 Section 2331
United States Code, “terrorism” is a crime distinguished by motive, specifically
to try and coerce US government. The problem with focusing on terrorism is that
it overlooks other possible motives, and means and opportunity for committing
domestic catastrophic destruction. Indeed, no motive is required at all in the
case of natural disasters which inflict catastrophic destruction
indiscriminately and without malice. And as the nation soon learned, WMD were
not the only means for inflicting manmade catastrophic destruction.
September 11th, 2001, nineteen hijackers inflicted as much damage as the
Imperial Japanese Navy on December 7th, 1941. The investigating 9/11 Commission
noted the attacks for their “surpassing disproportion”. The hijackers achieved
WMD effects without using WMD. They did this by subverting the nation’s
transportation infrastructure, turning passenger jets into guided missiles.
Again, the implications were profound. Non-state actors intent on inflicting
domestic catastrophic destruction did not need to fabricate or import WMD as
the nation was surrounded by the means for its own destruction in the form of
This vulnerability had not gone unnoticed. Reacting to
the 1995 Tokyo Subway Attacks, which themselves were an attack on Japan’s
transportation infrastructure, President Clinton formed a commission to examine
the vulnerability of US infrastructure. In 1997, the Commission on Critical
infrastructure Protection reported that US infrastructure was not under
immediate threat, but that there was a growing concern about the potential for
cyber attack. As the commission noted, the same cyber-physical systems that
enabled the explosive growth of the Internet were being incorporated into
Industrial Control Systems that underpinned many key components of the nation’s
critical infrastructure. President Clinton responded by issuing Presidential
Decision Directive #63 in May 1998 ordering the protection of critical
infrastructure, especially from cyber attack.
While cybercrime has garnered
much of the recent headlines regarding the theft of personal data on millions
of people, what keeps security experts awake at night are the potential
consequences of cyber attack on critical infrastructure. At least three
scenarios give them nightmares: 1) shutting down the North American Electric
Grid, 2) causing simultaneous meltdowns at two or more nuclear power plants, or
3) undermining the Federal Reserve.
The potential consequences from any of
these scenarios could make them the worst disaster in US history. Accordingly,
critical infrastructure protection and cybersecurity were made core missions of
the new Department of Homeland Security when the Homeland Security Act was
signed into law in November 2002. They
remain core missions to this day, but many don’t see the connection. The connection is this: cybersecurity is
essential to critical infrastructure protection, which is essential to homeland
security, which is about safeguarding the US from domestic catastrophic
Certainly the attacks on New York City and Washington DC
September 11, 2001, brought homeland security to the forefront of US policy
concerns, but it did not originate with these events. Concern about homeland security began six
years earlier with events that occurred not in the United States, but in Japan.
On March 20th, 1995 members of a quasi-religious cult, Aum
Shinrikyo, attempted to bring down Japanese government and establish a new
world order with their leader, Shibuya Asahara, as emperor by deploying Sarin
gas during morning rush hour on the Tokyo subway system. Twelve victims died in
the attack, but experts say thousands more could have been killed. It was the
first deployment of a weapon of mass destruction by a non-state actor. The
implications were profound. National
defenses designed to keep rogue states in check were useless against criminals
intent on acquiring and deploying WMD.
The Tokyo Subway Attacks prompted Congress to re-examine US
government and determine if it was up to the task of thwarting WMD attacks by
non-state actors. Both the Gilmore and
Hart-Rudman commissions concluded the answer was “no”. Acting on their
recommendations, Representative William Thornberry (R-TX) in April 2001
introduced House Resolution 1158 to create a National Homeland Security Agency.
That legislation was sitting in Congress five months later when the United
States was attacked on 9/11.
On the morning of March 20, 1995, five members of a
quasi-religious cult, Aum Shinrikyo, entered the Tokyo subway system and
boarded separate trains bound for the city center, the seat of Japanese
government. The cult members were
indistinct from thousands of other commuters, except the umbrellas they carried
had sharpened tips. They also carried
two concealed plastic bags of liquid Sarin.
Sarin is an odorless, colorless liquid that quickly vaporizes when
exposed to air. It is a nerve agent
developed as a pesticide in 1938. Highly
potent, a single drop can kill a grown adult.
As the Sarin started vaporizing, passengers within the packed cars began
to fall sick. Victims would later report
feeling nauseous and having blurred vision.
As the trains pulled into the next station, passengers rushed out of the
cars, unwittingly spreading the agent onto the platform. Soon, waiting commuters also began feeling
the effects and started pushing towards the station exits. Some collapsed on the platform before they
could make it. Seeing the pandemonium,
subway agents ordered all trains stopped.
But not before thousands were exposed.
Hundreds collapsed outside the station entrances. Over 5,000 victims made their way to
hospitals, overwhelming staff who were unsure what was happening. Miraculously most victims survived. Twelve
did not. Experts believe thousands more
could have died.
Japanese police traced the attacks back to the cult leader
Shibuya Asahara. He staged the attacks
to bring down the Japanese government and hasten a prophesied global apocalypse
from which he would emerge as “emperor”.
After a lengthy trial, Asahara was convicted of murder and sentenced to
death together with twelve other cult members. He still awaits execution.
While the Japanese were justifiably horrified by the
incident, security experts around the world also felt a chill. It was the first employment of a weapon of
mass destruction by a non-state actor.
Until this incident, WMD were thought to require the resources of a
nation state to develop or acquire. Aum
Shinrikyo had done it on their own without support or knowledge of any
The national security implications for the United States
were profound. The entire US security
apparatus consisting of the military, diplomatic, and economic arms of the
Federal government were designed to protect the United States and uphold its
interests among the community of nations. They were incapable of dealing with
rogue groups, foreign or domestic, capable and intent on employing WMD within
US territory. Overnight, the potential
number of hostile threats to the nation multiplied hundreds, maybe thousands.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, 19 hijackers formed
into four teams and made their way to three airports. Within a matter of hours they successfully
negotiated security measures designed to flag suspicious passengers and screen
for weapons. At 7:59 am, the first team
took off from Boston Logan airport aboard a Boeing 757 fueled for
transcontinental flight. Within 40
minutes, all four teams were airborne aboard similar flights originating from
Logan, Dulles, and Newark airports.
Shortly after gaining cruising altitude, the hijackers made their
move. They took over the cabin using
pepper spray and razor knives before forcing their way into the cockpit and
subduing the pilot and copilot. Once in
control, they disengaged the transponder and drove the aircraft to lower
altitude, effectively disappearing from FAA tracking screens.
At 8:46 am, the first aircraft crashed into the North Tower
of the World Trade Center. Loaded with
fuel, the aircraft disintegrated in a giant fireball as it ploughed into the
skyscraper. Within minutes, dramatic video was broadcast across network
television news. Any thoughts that it
was a tragic accident were erased less than 20 minutes later when a second
aircraft crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. There was no doubt that the United States was
Alert fighters were scrambled from Langley Air Force Base,
Virginia. But in the confusion of
events, they were directed out over the Atlantic to intercept expected enemy
military aircraft. A little over 30 minutes after the second crash, a third
aircraft hit the Pentagon. The alert
fighters were too far away to do anything.
Passengers aboard the fourth aircraft were warned about the
suicide hijackings over their cell phones.
As the aircraft made its way towards Washington DC, passengers and crew
rose up against the hijackers. Flight
recorders captured the sound of passengers trying to force their way into the
cockpit and the decision by the hijackers to dive the aircraft into the
ground. At 10:03, the last hijacked
aircraft crashed into the countryside outside Shanksville Pennsylvania.
From start to finish, the attacks had taken a little over
two hours. More than 2,600 people died
at the World Trade Center, including 333 firefighters; 125 died at the
Pentagon; 256 passengers died aboard the four aircraft. All told, the attacks resulted in 3,000 deaths
and $40 billion in damages.
2004 9/11 Commission Report
"A concerted national effort to ensure a homeland that
is safe, secure, and resilient against terrorism and other hazards where
American interests, aspirations, and way of life can thrive."
This definition was set forth in the 2010 Quadrennial
Homeland Security Review and affirmed again in the 2014 Quadrennial Homeland
The current definition of homeland security traces its
origin to the 2002 National Strategy for Homeland Security. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, terrorism
was designated a priority national security concern, and was thus the focus of
attention in the first definition:
"Homeland security is a concerted national effort to
prevent terrorist attacks within the United States, reduce America's
vulnerability to terrorism, and minimize the damage and recover from attacks
that do occur."
2002 National Strategy for Homeland Security
Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005,
homeland security strategy was adjusted to adopt an "all-hazards"
approach to reduce the effects and consequences of both natural and man-made
catastrophes. While natural disasters
were made part of the homeland security concern, the definition of homeland
security remained unchanged in the 2007 National Strategy for Homeland Security.
Also in response to Hurricane Katrina, Congress passed and
the President signed the "Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11
Commission Act of 2007". Among its
provisions was that every four years the Department of Homeland Security would
conduct a "comprehensive examination of the homeland security strategy of
the Nation". It was during the
first Quadrennial Homeland Security Review in 2010 that the current definition
of homeland security was conceived, identifying both terrorism and hazards as
homeland security concerns.
In 2010, the Obama Administration re-integrated the Homeland
Security Council back into the National Security Council, and addressed
homeland security as part of the Administration's 2010 National Security
Strategy. Embedded within the 2010
National Security Strategy are the homeland security critical mission areas
established in the 2010 Quadrennial Homeland Security Review. Not included in the 2010 National Security
Strategy is a definition of homeland security.
Nor is it included in the 2014 Quadrennial Homeland Security Review. However, it is referenced, and the 2010
Quadrennial Homeland Security Review remains the current authority for the
definition of homeland security.
“A non-state actor is an individual or organization that has significant
political influence but is not allied to any particular country or state.”
- Oxford Living Dictionary
Nation states are sovereign entities free to conduct
themselves according to their own laws and interests independent of other
nation states. Nation states generally pursue their interests with other
nations through diplomacy, commerce, and when necessary, conflict. Such
interactions are generally governed by what treaties nations have agreed to
create among themselves, and are only enforceable between nations using
diplomatic, economic, and military sanctions.
Non-state actors, on the other hand, are not sovereign
entities. They are citizens subject to the rules and laws of the country in which
they reside. Such laws are typically enforced by some form of internal legal
and judicial system. A citizen who breaks the law of any nation in that
country, whether they are physically present or not, may be subject to the
judicial process of that nation.
The perpetrators of the 1995 Tokyo Subway Attacks and 9/11
were non-state actors. Both groups were guilty of committing crimes against the
nations which they attacked. Both groups were therefore subject to the laws and
judicial processes of those nations.
The distinction between non-state actors and nation states
became obscured when the United States invaded Afghanistan in October 2001. The
invasion was precipitated when the Taliban government refused diplomatic
requests to extradite Osama bin Laden. He became the prime suspect only hours
after the 9/11 attacks when passenger manifests revealed that the probable
perpetrators were members of al Qaeda, a Muslim militant organization created
and financed by Bin Laden. Soon thereafter, Bin Laden was legally indicted and
a formal extradition submitted to the Taliban government of Afghanistan where
he was known to be hiding. After
refusing multiple extradition requests, President Bush chose to press US national
interests by removing the Taliban government through military force. The
objective of the invasion was two-fold: 1) eliminate Taliban support to US
enemies, and 2) capture or kill Osama bin Laden. Within three months of the
invasion, the Taliban was ousted, but Bin Laden had escaped. He was found ten
years later hiding in a compound outside a military academy in Pakistan. Relations
between the US and Pakistan were delicate. The US could not risk losing Bin
Laden again should he be tipped off by any formal extradition request. By the
same token, the US was in no position to employ military force the same as it
did in Afghanistan, not the least because Pakistan was ostensibly a major ally.
Accordingly, President Obama chose to use limited military force in the form of
a raid on Bin Laden’s suspected hideout. On May 1, 2011 the raid succeeded in
killing Osama bin Laden. Yes, it was an intrusion on Pakistan’s sovereign
rights, but few nations protested given the perception that Pakistan may have
colluded with the deadly fugitive. As for Afghanistan, US forces remain, trying
to foster a stable government that won’t again become a safe-haven for agents
hostile towards the United States.
Osama bin Laden was born in 1957 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the
seventeenth child of a construction magnate. In 1980 he left university to help
the Mujahideen fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. Arriving in Pakistan, bin
Laden joined with the Mujahideen and supported their fight with money and
machinery from his own construction company. After the Soviets withdrew in
April 1988, bin Laden helped form al Qaeda as a “base” or “foundation” for
future jihad. By August 1988, Bin Laden was clearly the leader of al Qaeda.
In 1990, bin Laden returned home to Saudi Arabia. On August
2, 1990, Saddam Hussein launched the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. With nothing to
stop Iraqi forces from crossing into Saudi Arabia, the royal family felt at
risk. Bin Laden, whose efforts in Afghanistan had earned him celebrity and
respect, proposed to the Saudi monarchy that he summon Mujahideen for a jihad
to retake Kuwait. He was rebuffed, and the Saudis joined the U.S.-led
On August 7, 1990, the U.S. 82nd Airborne landed in Dhahran
Saudi Arabia, and took up positions barely 400 miles from Medina, the second
holiest site in Islam. Bin Laden and a number of Muslim clerics began to
publicly denounce the arrangement. The Saudi government exiled the clerics and
undertook to silence bin Laden by, among other things, confiscating his
passport. With help from a dissident member of the royal family, bin Laden
managed to get out of the country and make his way to Sudan.
in 1991, bin Laden moved to Khartoum and set about building
a large set of complex and intertwined business and terrorist enterprises. Bin
Laden used his construction company to build a new highway from Khartoum to
Port Sudan on the Red Sea coast. Meanwhile, al Qaeda finance officers and top
operatives used their positions in bin Laden’s companies to acquire weapons,
explosives, and technical equipment for terrorist purposes.
In early 1992, al Qaeda issued a fatwa, a religious edict
calling for jihad against the Western “occupation” of Islamic lands,
specifically singling out U.S. forces for attack. During bin Laden’s time in
Sudan, al Qaeda was suspected of supporting attacks against U.S. forces in Yemen,
Somalia, and Saudi Arabia. In 1995 al Qaeda was implicated in an assassination
attempt against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Subsequent pressure from
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United States forced the expulsion of bin Laden
from Sudan. Because his citizenship had been revoked in 1994, bin Laden could
not return to Saudi Arabia. Instead, he chose to return to Pakistan and
eventually make his way back to Afghanistan.
When bin Laden arrived in Pakistan in May 1996, the Taliban
were still fighting to gain control of Afghanistan. After the Soviets departed
in April 1988, Afghanistan erupted in civil war between competing militias. In
1994, the Taliban arose as a political-religious force, and with financial
backing from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, succeeded in rising to power in
Under the protection of the Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammed
Omar, bin Laden re-established al Qaeda operations in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Through his connections, bin Laden brought much needed financial support to the
Taliban. In return, bin Laden and al Qaeda were given a sanctuary in which to
train and indoctrinate fighters and terrorists, import weapons, and plot and
staff terrorist schemes. The Taliban seemed to open the doors to all who wanted
to come to Afghanistan to train in the camps. It is estimated some 10,000 to
20,000 fighters underwent instruction at bin Laden supported camps in
Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.
Shortly after arriving in Afghanistan in 1996, bin Laden
issued a fatwa declaring war against the United States. U.S. forces remained in
Saudi Arabia to protect the kingdom from any further aggression by Saddam
Hussein. In his 1996 fatwa, bin Laden decried the “occupation of the land of
the two Holy Places—the foundation of the house of Islam, the place of the
revelation, the source of the message and the place of the noble Ka’ba, the
Qiblah of all Muslims—by the armies of the American Crusaders and their
Two years later, after al Qaeda had regathered its strength,
bin Laden issued a second fatwa in February 1998. The second fatwa declared the
killing of North Americans and their allies an “individual duty for every
Muslim” to “liberate the al Aqsa Mosque (in Jerusalem) and the holy mosque (in
Mecca) from their grip”. At the public announcement of the fatwa, bin Laden
called North Americans “very easy targets”, and told journalists “You will see
the results of this in a very short time.”
On August 7, 1998, two truck bombs were exploded outside
U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Together, the
explosions killed 224 people including 12 Americans, and injured 4,500 more.
The attacks were linked to al Qaeda, and bin Laden was placed on the FBI’s list
of Ten Most Wanted.
Al Qaeda and bin Laden had come to the attention of the U.S.
before the African embassy bombings. The CIA had even conceived a kidnapping
plan to deliver bin Laden to an Arab court to answer for his role in the failed
assassination attempt on Egypt’s president. Because CIA senior management
didn’t think the plan would work, it was never executed. Still, the CIA
maintained surveillance of bin Laden and al Qaeda. It was because of this
monitoring they were able to quickly trace the embassy bombings back to bin
Debate about what to do about bin Laden settled very soon on
one option: Tomahawk cruise missiles. Two weeks later, on March 20, 1998, Navy
vessels in the Arabian Sea fired about 75 cruise missiles at four training
camps inside Afghanistan. One camp was where bin Laden met with other leaders.
According to the CIA, bin Laden departed the camp just hours before the cruise
missiles hit. At the same time he
authorized the cruise missile attacks, President Clinton issued a Memorandum of
Notification authorizing the CIA to capture bin Laden. A second memorandum
issued in December authorized the CIA to capture or kill bin Laden.
As the CIA examined alternative plans throughout 1999, all
were discarded as either unlikely to succeed or likely to cause significant
collateral damage. At the turn of the new century, al Qaeda was implicated in
failed attacks against targets in Jordan, and the USS The Sullivans. Jordanian
police foiled the first, and the boat filled with explosives sank before
detonating. Together with a failed attack on Los Angeles International Airport
they were collectively called the “Millennium Plot”.
In January 2000, National Security Advisor Sandy Berger was
advised that more al Qaeda attacks were not a question of “if” but rather of
“when” and “where”. The warning placed increased pressure on efforts to capture
or kill bin Laden. The State Department was thwarted by the Taliban’s refusal
to give him over. CIA progress was slowed by attempts to recruit Taliban rivals
in southern Afghanistan. Military options were stymied by absence of a friendly
operating base in the area. President Clinton noted the lack of progress in
March 2000 when he wrote in the margin of his daily briefing that “the United States
could surely do better.”
On October 12, 2000, a speed boat laden with explosives
rammed the USS Cole in Yemen, killing 17 sailors and heavily damaging the
destroyer. While al Qaeda was suspected in the attack, the absence of “smoking
gun” evidence prevented the White House from delivering an ultimatum to the
Taliban to give up bin Laden. Further action was subsequently deferred to the
new Bush Administration after belatedly winning one of the closest presidential
contests in U.S. history.
The outgoing National Security Advisor briefed the incoming
National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, about the al Qaeda threat and
Osama bin Laden. The concerns did not go unheeded, but were quickly
overshadowed by other events and priorities in the new Bush Administration.
Meanwhile, plotting had begun on what al Qaeda called the “Planes Operation”.
In 1996, a top al Qaeda field commander, Khalid Sheikh
Mohammed (KSM) approached bin Laden about several proposals for attacking the
United States. One proposal involved hijacking ten planes to attack targets on
both the East and West coasts of the United States. In addition to the Twin
Towers and Pentagon, the planes were to hit the White House, CIA and FBI
headquarters, unidentified nuclear power plants, and the tallest buildings in
California and Washington State. The tenth plane was to kill every adult male
passenger before landing and denouncing U.S. Middle East policies in front of
the media. Bin Laden listened, but did not commit. He had just arrived in
Afghanistan himself, and had yet to re-establish al Qaeda operations. It wasn’t
until after the African embassy bombings in 1998 that planning for the 9/11
operation began in earnest. In March/April 1999, bin Laden summoned KSM to
Kandahar and told him al Qaeda would support his proposal, but he had to scale
it back. KSM and bin Laden agreed to four targets: the Twin Towers, Pentagon,
White House, and U.S. Capitol.
By late in the evening of September 11, the President had
addressed the nation on the terrible events of the day. The long day was not
yet over. When the larger meeting that included his domestic department heads
broke up, President Bush chaired a smaller meeting of top advisers, a group he
would later call his “war council.” In this restricted National Security
Council meeting, the President said it was time for self-defense. The United
States would punish not just the perpetrators of the attacks, but also those
who harbored them.
A cross check of the 9/11 flight manifests implicated al
Qaeda in the attacks. On September 13, The State Department proposed delivering
an ultimatum to the Taliban: produce bin Laden and his deputies and shut down
al Qaeda camps within 24 to 48 hours, or the United States will use all
necessary means to destroy the terrorist infrastructure. The State Department
did not expect the Taliban to comply. President Bush recalled that he quickly
realized that the administration would have to invade Afghanistan with ground
In a speech before Congress on September 21, President Bush
delivered the U.S. ultimatum to the Taliban: “Deliver to U.S. authorities all
the leaders of al Qaeda… or share in their fate.” He said: “Either you are with
us, or you are with the terrorists.” The terms were non-negotiable. That same
day, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, insisted his
country would not hand over Osama bin Laden. He told a news conference in the
capital, Islamabad: "Our position on this is that if America has proof, we
are ready for the trial of Osama bin Laden in light of the evidence."
Asked if he was ready to hand Bin Laden over, he replied: "No."
On September 22, the United Arab Emirates, and later Saudi
Arabia, withdrew recognition of the Taliban as Afghanistan's legal government,
leaving neighboring Pakistan as the only remaining country with diplomatic
ties. On October 4, the Taliban agreed to turn bin Laden over to Pakistan for
trial in an international tribunal that operated according to Islamic Sharia
law, but Pakistan blocked the offer as it was not possible to guarantee his
safety. On October 7, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan offered to detain bin
Laden and try him under Islamic law if the U.S. made a formal request and
presented the Taliban with evidence. The offer was rejected on grounds there
would be no negotiating. Plus, the U.S. had begun military operations in
President Bush approved military plans to attack Afghanistan
in meetings with Central Command’s General Tommy Franks and other advisers on
September 21 and October 2. Originally titled “Infinite Justice,” the
operation’s code word was changed—to avoid the sensibilities of Muslims who
associate the power of infinite justice with God alone—to “Enduring Freedom.”
On October 7, less than one month after the September 11
attacks, the U.S., aided by the United Kingdom, Canada, and other countries
including several from the NATO alliance, initiated military action, bombing
Taliban and Al-Qaeda-related camps. The stated intent of military operations
was to remove the Taliban from power, and prevent the use of Afghanistan as a
terrorist base of operations.
The CIA's elite Special Activities Division (SAD) units were
the first U.S. forces to enter Afghanistan. They joined with the Afghan United
Front, also known as the Northern Alliance, to prepare for the subsequent
arrival of U.S. Special Operations forces. The CIA provided intelligence,
experience, cash, covert action capabilities, and liaison with tribal allies.
In turn, the U.S. military offered combat expertise, firepower, logistics, and
communications. Together, the Northern Alliance and SAD and Special Forces
combined to overthrow the Taliban with minimal coalition casualties, and
without the use of international conventional ground forces.
On October 14, the Taliban offered to discuss handing over
Osama bin Laden to a neutral country in return for a bombing halt, but only if
the Taliban were given evidence of bin Laden's involvement. The U.S. rejected
this offer, and continued military operations. Mazar-i-Sharif fell to United Front
troops of Ustad Atta Mohammad Noor and Abdul Rashid Dostum on November 9,
triggering a cascade of provinces falling with minimal resistance.
On the night of November 12, the Taliban retreated south
from Kabul. On November 15, they released eight Western aid workers after three
months in captivity. By November 13, the Taliban had withdrawn from both Kabul
and Jalalabad. Finally, in early December, the Taliban gave up Kandahar, their
last stronghold, dispersing without surrendering.
The U.S. and its allies drove the Taliban from power and
built military bases near major cities across the country. Most al-Qaeda and
Taliban, however, were not captured, escaping to neighboring Pakistan or
retreating to rural or remote mountainous regions. Among the escapees was Osama bin Laden.
In December 2001, Afghan forces, with limited U.S. support,
engaged al Qaeda elements in a cave complex called Tora Bora. It was later
determined that bin Laden was present, and the failure by the United States to
commit enough ground troops allowed him to escape.
In March 2002, the largest engagement of the war was fought,
in the mountainous Shah-i-Kot area south of Gardez, against a large force of al
Qaeda jihadists. Almost all remaining al Qaeda forces fled across the border
and took refuge in Pakistan’s equally mountainous and lightly governed frontier
After bin Laden fled Tora Bora in 2001, numerous speculative
press reports were issued about his whereabouts or even death. Some placed bin
Laden in different locations during overlapping time periods. None were ever
definitively proven. After military offensives in Afghanistan failed to uncover
his whereabouts, Pakistan was regularly identified as his suspected hiding
In April 2011, various intelligence outlets pinpointed bin
Laden's suspected location near Abbottabad, Pakistan. It was previously
believed that bin Laden was hiding near the border between Afghanistan and
Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, but he was found 100 miles away
in a three-story compound in Abbottabad, less than a mile from the Pakistan
On April 29, 2011, President Obama authorized a team of Navy
SEALs to raid the compound in Abbottabad. On May 2, 2011, Operation NEPTUNE
SPEAR launched from Afghanistan into Pakistan aboard specially modified stealth
helicopters. They were supported by multiple additional aircraft, including Air
Force fighters and drones.
As the helicopters maneuvered to discharge the SEALs, one
lost lift and crash landed inside the compound. None of the team was seriously
injured, and they quickly regained their composure. The other helicopter landed
outside the compound and the SEALs scaled the walls to get inside. The SEALs
then advanced into the house, breaching walls and doors with explosives.
The interior was pitch dark because CIA operatives had cut
the power to the neighborhood. However, the SEALs wore night vision goggles. They
made their way to the third floor where bin Laden lived with his family. Bin
Laden peered through his bedroom door at the Americans advancing up the stairs,
and then retreated into the room as the lead SEAL fired a shot at him, which
either missed or hit him in the side.
Bounding into his bedroom, the lead SEAL found bin Laden
with one of his wives. Bin Laden was shot twice in the forehead, and once more
as he crumpled to the floor. He was dead. The SEAL team leader radioed,
"For God and country—Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo", using a call sign
to confirm they had found bin Laden. After being prompted for confirmation, the
SEAL team leader announced "Geronimo E.K.I.A.", military-speak for
“enemy killed in action”. Watching the operation in the White House Situation
Room, Obama said, "We got him."
From entry to exit, the SEALS spent no more than 38 minutes
in the Abbottabad compound. The helicopter damaged in the crash was destroyed
to safeguard its classified equipment. A standby Chinook was sent in to pick up
the SEALS together with bin Laden’s body and evidence gathered in the raid. The
team flew back to Afghanistan where bin Laden’s body was transferred to a
waiting V-22 Osprey and flown out to the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson. Muslim
religious rites were performed and the body wrapped in a white sheet and placed
in a weighted plastic bag. At approximately 11:00 am, May 2, 2011, bin Laden’s
body was released into the ocean, buried at sea, unmarked and unmourned.