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How Were We Able to Track Down Osama bin Laden?

Taking down Osama bin Laden was an achievement resulting from a culmination of a decade of national security policy. Soft power and diplomacy helped along the way, but it was hard power and military might that made it possible. President George W. Bush put the correct policies in place, including the PATRIOT Act, Gitmo and increased intelligence gathering. President Barack Obama was wise to continue executing many of the same strategies. Here are the main reasons we were able to take him out.

#1. We Invaded Afghanistan. Anyone who is a hunter knows you have to flush game out before you bag it. It often works the same way with terrorists. The Taliban refused to give up bin Laden because the two groups were joined at the hip and saw Afghanistan as just the first step in building bin Laden’s worldwide terrorist empire—pushing him out was job #1.

#2. We Set Up Gitmo. When the full story of the long war against terrorism is told, we will learn that detaining and interrogating enemy combatants was a critical tool in winning the war. Indeed, we have found that when we released Gitmo detainees, many of them went back to the battlefield. There are already reports that detainees through lawful interrogations provided key intelligence cues that helped tracked down bin Laden. CIA Director Leon Panetta told NBC News yesterday that “enhanced interrogation techniques“ were used to extract information that led to the mission’s success.

#3. We Increased Intelligence Gathering. We had a number of intelligence operations running inside of Pakistan with the help of the government. We used the data collected there, in Afghanistan, at Gitmo and at other facilities around the globe to diligently and patiently connect the dots. This high quality analysis is not possible without modern technology and military equipment and dedicated personnel.

#4. We Didn’t Quit Afghanistan. Afghanistan provided a base to keep bin Laden at bay. Drone strikes limited the enemy’s freedom of movement. The base in Afghanistan helped collect intelligence about the enemy and in the end served as the base to launch SEAL Team Six to take the enemy out. Our mission in Afghanistan now remains to help build a nation that can govern and protect itself, so that it can act as a seawall to keep the Taliban and their al-Qaeda sponsors from going back and forth across the border. This is a job worth doing and one that can be done. In fact, recent polls show that in the wake of taking out bin Laden, there has been an upswing of Americans who are now convinced that the war in Afghanistan can be won. They are right.

#5. We Protected the Homeland. At least 38 terrorist plots have been foiled since 9/11. Our ability to protect the homeland while we hunted bin Laden was an important part of keeping him cornered until he could be hunted down.

#6. We Provided for the Common Defense. Protecting America can’t be done with special operations alone or just by lobbing drones and cruise missiles at the enemy. (That was the Clinton strategy, which failed.) SEAL Team Six may have gotten bin Laden, but it was because conventional forces chased him out of Afghanistan, we rounded up prisoners and sent them to Gitmo to be interrogated, and we established a presence in Afghanistan to hold bin Laden at bay and then launch operations against him. A strong military and special operations strategy go hand in hand. The troops who have been fighting this battle since 2001 are brave warriors who deserve the best equipment and tools to get the job done.

President Obama should be praised for his command this weekend, as should the military and civilian leaders of the past decade who gave him the necessary security apparatus to make this an easy decision. Obama should not use this one victory to reverse course, deplete our military readiness, abandon the war in Afghanistan and weaken our national security. We should remain vigilant in the ongoing war against terrorism.

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