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Osama bin Laden's death sparks questions about Afghanistan war

U.S. troops stationed at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, watch breaking news on the announcement by President Barack Obama that Osama bin Laden had been killed.
United States military troops watch breaking news on the announcement by President Barack Obama that Osama bin Laden had been killed, at the USO at Kandahar Airfield, southern Afghanistan, May 2, 2011. AP Photo/Kevin Frayer

Updated at 4:40 p.m. ET with remarks from Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) that President Obama should make "robust" troop reductions in Afghanistan.

Opponents of the war in Afghanistan are saying today that Osama bin Laden's death marks a turning point that should spur President Obama to bring the troops home.

Mr. Obama, as well as most other political leaders, have acknowledged that bin Laden's death marks a significant victory in the fight against al Qaeda -- but they insist the fight is not over. It remains to be seen how the administration will change course in Afghanistan, where troop reductions were slated to start in July. Public skepticism of the war was already growing, polls have shown, but the latest developments could amplify the debate.

"President Obama's announcement has ended the rationale for the continuation of a 10-year war," Robert Greenwald of the liberal group Brave New Foundation said in a statement. "The reason as understood by Americans for going into Afghanistan was to get Bin Laden and stop al Qaeda. With al-Qaeda driven from the country and Bin Laden dead, Americans won't tolerate spending $2 billion a week on this war any longer."

Greenwald's organization started the initiative "Rethink Afghanistan," which is now hosting a petition on its website to bring troops home now that bin Laden is dead.

Rick Reyes, a cofounder of Brave New Foundation's Veterans for Rethinking Afghanistan, said that as part of the first Marines to set boots on the ground in Afghanistan, his sole mission was capturing bin Laden. "Our mission is accomplished," he said.

Full coverage: The death of Osama bin Laden

Richard Dreyfuss, a contributor to the liberal publication The Nation, wrote in an op-ed republished on today that "The war in Afghanistan, which long ago lost any sane rationale, no longer has even a pretext."

Indeed, as some interviews with soldiers and military families illustrate, bin Laden's capture was considered a significant reason for the ongoing war.

"That's the reason my son was over there. This is just huge," Del Warren of Long Beach, Calif., whose 28-year-old son was killed in Afghanistan, told the Los Angeles Times in response to bin Laden's death.

New calls for bringing troops out of Afghanistan could build on what appeared to be growing public skepticism about the war. A Washington Post/ ABC News poll released in March showed that 64 percent of Americans said the Afghanistan war is not worth fighting, including about half of Republicans.

Early Monday morning, former Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire published an op-ed in the Hill entitled, "Move on from Afghanistan, focus on Pakistan." The op-ed makes no mention of bin Laden but nevertheless says, "It is time to depart Afghanistan. Nine years is enough."

"We have made the point that we can deliver power there in a manner that should cause any succeeding ruling group to think at some length about whether there is a net benefit to tolerating terrorists who wish to attack America," Gregg wrote. "Now is the time to move on. We have other concerns in the world that should weigh much more heavily in favor of our involvement."

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Meanwhile, some Afghanistan officials also say the death of Osama bin Laden gives the U.S. new reason to move on from Afghanistan.

"This incidence helps the realization that the war on terror is not in Afghan villages and houses -- it has to be conducted where it's most effective," said Waheed Omer, a spokesperson for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, said in an interview with CBS News.

That said, Omer pointed out that there is a plan in place that calls for most NATO combat troops to leave the country by the end of 2014. "I don't see any reason why this is going to impact that in a drastic way," he said.

Not all Afghanistan officials feel that way, however.

"This shouldn't be seen as mission accomplished," said former Afghanistan interior minister Hanif Atmar, reports the Wall Street Journal. "This much bigger than just one man. It's extremely important for the U.S., NATO and Afghanistan to continue to stay the course."

Some conservative analysts in the U.S. are also taking this position: "The death of bin Laden should also not be taken as an excuse or an opportunity to wind down American involvement in Afghanistan," writes Reza Jan, a Critical Threats Project analyst for the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. "Doing so would display dangerous ignorance of al Qaeda's staying power."

Jan continues, "Leaving Afghanistan to the Taliban on the pretext that Osama bin Laden, the 'primary target' of U.S. efforts in the region, has been eliminated, would provide al Qaeda the second wind and breathing space it would need to truly reconstitute itself and regain or exceed the ability to threaten the world it possessed on 9/11."

Statement by the NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen released a statement saying that "NATO Allies and partners will continue their mission to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for extremism, but develops in peace and security."

Similarly, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today that the U.S. should take the opportunity opened up by bin Laden's death "to renew our resolve and redouble our efforts."

"We are supporting an Afghan-led political process that seeks to isolate al Qaeda and end the insurgency," she said.

UPDATE: Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman Senate Armed Services Committee, said Monday afternoon that he expects President Obama to make a "robust reduction" in troops from Afghanistan this July.

In a conference call with reporters, Levin said that following conservations with Mr. Obama, he was convinced that the president was already inclined to make "robust" reductions there. But the death of bin Laden should serve to "reinforce" that inclination, he said.

"I think there is going to be a lot of strong feeling on the part of most Democrats and many independents and even some Republicans that the decision of the president to reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan starting in July should be a robust reduction," Levin said. "It shouldn't be just a symbolic reduction; it should establish the point [that] the security of Afghanistan needs to be in the hands of Afghans."

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