What does the death of Osama bin Laden mean for the war in Afghanistan?
The positive impact is obvious: bin Laden had a close alliance with Taliban leader Mullah Omar. No doubt many Taliban and associated operatives (e.g., in the Haqqani network) viewed bin Laden as a great holy warrior who charted the way forward in the battle against infidels, crusaders, and Zionists. His death could, therefore, strike a significant psychological blow against insurgents. It may also have more direct repercussions. If bin Laden was still acting, as he had in the past, as a key intermediary between the Taliban and its wealthy Persian Gulf backers, then his death would clearly interrupt the flow of funding.
But oddly enough, bin Laden's death may also be a setback for the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan, at least in the West. In justifying his surge in Afghanistan, President Obama has put too much rhetorical weight on the need to counter al-Qaeda. The president has repeatedly claimed that all we were doing in Afghanistan was denying al-Qaeda the ability to use that country as a sanctuary. With bin Laden dead, many Americans may decide that the threat from al-Qaeda is also gone and that we can afford to draw down in Afghanistan. Not so.
Whatever al-Qaeda's fate (and it is too early to tell whether it will be able to survive its "emir's" demise), other Islamist terrorist groups will not be significantly hindered. This includes groups such as the Pakistani Taliban, the Afghan Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the Haqqani network, all at least as virulent as al-Qaeda if lacking, so far, its global ambition. A comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan is still vital to prevent that country from falling to Osama bin Laden's fellow travelers.
Moreover, by maintaining a large presence in Afghanistan, the United States can also project power into Pakistan--as Navy SEALs showed by swooping down on bin Laden's compound. Given how unstable Pakistan remains (instability that may well be exacerbated by the fallout from this raid),†it is imperative that we have bases nearby, and no location is as convenient or secure as Afghanistan.