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Ayman al-Zawahri, left, holds a press conference with Osama bin Laden, Khost, Afghanistan, 1998 (AP photo by Mazhar Ali Khan).

Playing the Long Game: Getting Past Near-Term Thinking on Terrorism

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Five years after the killing of Osama bin Laden, the U.S. public seems to understand that the fight against terrorism is a struggle that’s here to stay. The challenge for government officials is to manage the threat without exacerbating it, or allowing terrorism to monopolize the time and resources at the expense of other compelling public policy needs. Most people get that—that is, until the next attack happens and the second-guessing starts.

It was five years ago this week that the U.S. launched a successful operation in Abbottabad, Pakistan, targeting the leader of al-Qaida. Bin Laden was killed in the raid on May 2, 2011, just shy of 10 years after he masterminded the 9/11 attacks against the United States. The success of the raid not only provided closure for the 9/11 survivors and American society writ large, but enhanced President Barack Obama’s standing as commander-in-chief. It also continues to be the source of insights about decision-making and the risks associated with such dangerous operations that rely on intelligence that is by definition incomplete. ...

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