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For Afghans, death of bin Laden hasn't ended their problems

Parwiz / Reuters

Afghans shout slogans during a protest against the killing of Afghans in an Afghan-led operation in Laghman province May 1, 2012. NATO says a Taliban leader and another insurgent were killed after they opened fire on security forces taking part in the operation in the eastern province of Laghman.

KABUL, Afghanistan – The first U.S. boots hit Afghan soil in October 2001. The men were on the search for Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks and the leader of the al-Qaida terror network. But they didn't find him.

It took nearly 10 years until a new administration in Washington watched through a live video feed as he was captured and killed by U.S. commandos across the Afghan border in Pakistan, just after 1 a.m. local time, on May 2, 2011.

Bin Laden’s death accomplished one of the major goals of the so-called “War on Terror.” But did it come too late in the game?  

A year after bin Laden’s death, the verdict is still out among Afghans on the impact of his death.


'Does not affect us'
Ibrahim, a property dealer in Kabul who didn't give his last name, praised bin Laden and said that countries such as the United States have destroyed his country and brought unwanted distractions. 

“[Bin Laden] was a good fighter,” he said.  “We will follow his followers wherever they need us. I will join them for jihad if they need us.”

But Mohammad Daoud, a mechanic working just a few miles away in the bustling Shar-e-Now section of Kabul, said that bin Laden’s death may have affected the leadership of al-Qaida, but it hasn’t had any effect on the lives of the average Afghan. 

“We are normal citizens and it does not affect us,” Daoud said. “There will be positive and negative effects on his party due to his death, but not on us.”

Professor Daoud Murdaian, who teaches political science at the American University in Kabul, said bin Laden’s death was symbolically significant, but not substantial to the war.  

“The problems still exist in Afghanistan and the region. Killing bin Laden hasn’t ended the problems here, he is finished physically, but he is still here spiritually,” Murdaian said.

He believes the United States and international community did not do enough to stabilize Afghanistan and the region from the start, which is why bin Laden’s death hasn’t had much of an impact. “Al-Qaida and the Taliban were not weakened by his death,” Murdaian added.

Psychological victory for U.S. squandered?
After years of grueling battles in a country torn apart by decades of warfare, bin Laden’s death was a huge psychological victory for American troops at the time.

But one year after his death, the war in Afghanistan is still raging. The Taliban continue to fight as anti-American sentiment in both Afghanistan and Pakistan are at an all-time high.

According to a 2009 assessment by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former head of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, a key to turning the tide of the war would be for the winning side to believe they are winning. According to McChrystal, the Taliban believed they were winning the war for several years, which gave them tremendous confidence.

Bin Laden’s death changed that equation, leading many Americans to believe again that they could win what has become the United States’ longest war.

Since that great U.S. victory we have seen a series of actions on the part of American troops that have only served to further diminish Afghan trust and earn America more enemies. 

Among these actions, the release of a video of U.S. Marines urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters, soldiers accidentally burning copies of the Koran, Islam’s holiest book, and the massacre of 17 Afghan civilians allegedly at the hands of U.S. Army Staff Sgt.Robert Bales while they were sleeping in their homes have garnered the most intense criticism. These rare events have overshadowed many positive achievements.

Transition key
Following the death of bin Laden last year, military officials on the ground in Afghanistan said his demise would not affect the situation on the ground, but rather would only change policy decisions in Washington. 

As U.S. and NATO troops continue their withdrawal, control of the country will transition into Afghan hands by 2013.

If the transition isn’t a smooth one, many analysts believe Afghanistan will continue to be a problem that will haunt the U.S. and its NATO partners for many decades to come. 

Dr. Wadeer Safi, a Kabul University political science professor, believes Afghanistan’s strategic position is very dangerous not just for itself, but also for Western interests.

“When the U.S. and NATO leave Afghanistan, the country will again fall into the hands of its neighboring countries, like Pakistan and Iran, and it will be a playground for them,” Safi said.  “That will make Afghanistan and the region dangerous to the West – if they leave Afghanistan like they left it in the past [after the Soviet withdrawal].”

NBC News Akbar Shinwari contributed to this report.