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Bin Laden killing a ‘wonderful thing,’ but there’s still work to be done

By MARTIN KUZ | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 3, 2011

FORWARD OPERATING BASE SHANK, Afghanistan — It was euphoria and relief mixed with a sense of caution about what lies ahead as soldiers here absorbed the news that U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan on Sunday, ending a nearly decade-long manhunt for the world’s most wanted terrorist.

“I think it’s a [expletive] wonderful thing, a great day for America,” said Spc. Beau Bock, an electronics technician with Company B, 94th Brigade Support Battalion, 10th Mountain Division, while lifting weights at the base gym. “Getting bin Laden brings closure to all the hearts that were broken on 9/11.”

First Lt. Ben Abel, a member of the same company, said that he wished bin Laden’s death had occurred while President George W. Bush was in office.

“He started [the war in Afghanistan],” Abel said. “He deserved to be able to finish it.”

Abel added that the search for bin Laden, if frustrating because of how long the al-Qaida leader eluded U.S. operatives, proved the nation’s collective determination.

“This shows that we don’t give up,” he said.

Word of bin Laden’s death spread quickly Monday morning at this base in Logar province, which borders Pakistan, with TVs in the base dining facilities carrying live news feeds from the United States.

“It’s a relief to know [the hunt] for bin Laden is over,” said Staff Sgt. Cormen Fernandez of the 831st Distribution Deployment Support Team, 101st Airborne Division. “We’ve been looking for this guy for 10 years. We needed to end it.”

Far from portending a sudden halt to the war in Afghanistan, bin Laden’s demise may cause more turmoil in the short-term, particularly as the Taliban launches its annual spring offensive, which typically brings intensified insurgent activity.

“There’s going to be a struggle to replace him [within al-Qaida], said Fernandez, whose company deployed to Logar nearly a year ago.

“Just because we got bin Laden doesn’t mean the mission is complete. There’s a lot more work to do.”

Spc. Joshua Bowie, a radio technician with Company B, had a similar perspective.

“It’s a good thing we got bin Laden, but on the other hand, when a leader goes out, someone else comes in,” Bowie said. “And he could be better or he could be worse.”

Either way, he said, troops know the hard work of trying to tame the insurgency that has riven Afghanistan for almost 10 years will continue.

“We gotta keep doing our job no matter how long it takes,” Bowie said. “Whether it’s bin Laden or the next guy who gets his seat, there’s still a lot to do.” Added Bock: “Getting rid of bin Laden, it delivers a big blow to the enemy. But the war isn’t over.”

Many soldiers at Kandahar Air Field said they felt bin Laden’s death wouldn’t change the mission much.

“It’s not going to change the way we do things,” said Warrant Officer Travis Akins of the 525th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade. “Our goal is to gain the respect and trust of the Afghan people and show that we’re sincere in our effort to help here.

“It took 10 years. It showed that we stayed true in our commitment to go after him and not relent.”

Sgt. Nicholas Rovero, 2nd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, expressed surprise.

“I didn’t believe it,” he said. “We’ve been chasing a ghost the past 10 years.”

And it just doesn’t matter, said one junior noncommissioned officer.

“What I care about,” said Sgt. Ken Huguley, 2nd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, “are the people to my right [and] the people to my left. And getting home.”

Stars and Stripes reporter Laura Rauch contributed to this report.

kuzm@estripes.osd.mil

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