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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 actors.

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.

On 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 critical infrastructure.

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 destruction.
1997 Presidential Commission Report on Critical Infrastructure Protection
1998 PDD-63 Protecting Critical Infrastructure
2002 Homeland Security Act
2004 9/11 Commission Report

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.

1999 Gilmore Commission Report
1999 Hart-Rudman Commission Report
2000 Bremer Commission Report
2000 Gilmore Commission Report
2000 Hart-Rudman Commission Report
2001 Hart-Rudman Commission Report
2001 Gilmore Commission Report
2001 HR1158 for a National Homeland Security Agency

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 government. 

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.     

1998 Community Response to Tokyo Subway Attacks
1999 Case Study of Tokyo Subway Attacks
2002 Consequence Management to Tokyo Subway Attacks

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 under attack. 

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

Current Definition:
"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 Security Review.  

2010 Quadrennial Homeland Security Review
2014 Quadrennial Homeland Security Review

Policy Evolution

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.  

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.  

Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007

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.  

2010 National Security Strategy (PDF)  

For additional information regarding the definition of homeland security, please see the following report from the Congressional Research Service.

2013 CRS Report: Defining 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 coalition.  

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 September 1996.  

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 allies.”  

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 Laden.  

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 troops.  

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 Afghanistan.  

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 provinces.  

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 place.  

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 Military Academy.  

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.  

2004 9/11 Commission Report
2011 Raid that Killed bin Laden
2014 Finding bin Laden