I was sitting in the chow hall this morning, rushing through my breakfast after barely having slept, and worried about how I would prepare for all the morning's meetings, when our Operations Officer came by my table to say that UBL had been killed. I keep telling myself I won't overreact to rumors that originate here in Kabul, so I turned to the Sergeant with me and said, "That might be the case...but I'm still finishing breakfast."
I tried to make good on that, too.
After a couple minutes, though, I realized my appetite was gone, and I darted for a TV. Sure enough, it was true, and I felt like things had *sort of* come full circle on the event that indirectly drew me into the military and defined the last 7 years of my life. Obviously, it was emotional.
During our 1100 update briefing to the boss, our Colonel turned to the Operations Officer and me, saying, "Greg, Mark...throw your battle-rattle on and be out in the square at 1300. We're doing a dismounted patrol."
At 1300, off we went. There were ultimately 16 of us who went out, and we patrolled up part of Jalalabad Highway and then into a nearby village. Here was my first reaction to the morning's news:
No one seemed to really care.
The cars on the main road still sped by (though I couldn't tell if some of the horn-honking was celebratory or just, well, horn-honking). People smiled and waved, which was cool, but there were no "bin Laden" references flying around. There were a few kids who basically joined the patrol for a couple miles, and trudged right along with us in their sandals and raggedy clothes. One kid even pointed to my "Yankee Division" patch and said, in perfect, unaccented American English, "Massachusetts, Boston," as he high-fived me. As was confirmed by the Infantry Captain who came along with us, and has spent the past 8 months at Camp Phoenix, that made this similar to just about every other dismounted patrol he had ever seen.
As for our command, the UBL capture lifted everyone's spirits for a while, but not enough to even slightly interrupt the staggering workload related to what we do (running the bases in Kabul involves a lot of contracts, construction, and logistics).
I think concerns about insurgent or terrorist blowback are a bit much. Here's why:
(1) Insurgent groups who ALREADY hate us aren't going to hate us more because we killed their leader/figurehead/icon. Just look at a capabilities/intentions matrix. Nothing really changed for any local insurgents who like to shoot rockets at US bases. The incentive structure of opium smugglers, kidnappers, or crooked politicians in Afghanistan, Iraq, or anywhere else is now no different. I don't see how this helps recruiting, either...if anything, I think it HURTS recruiting for these guys because of the message that says, "You can run, you can hide, but if America is determined enough to find you, she will."
(2) People who DIDN'T already hate us aren't going to start hating us because we killed our most infamous sworn enemy. In fact, they might say it made lots of sense to do what we did...a pinprick strike, as opposed to carpet bombing from a B-52, and a 'burial at sea' as opposed to corporeal desecration or the creation of a 'martyr's shrine.' Seems like the most humane, sensible option for that sort of thing.
Judging by the way a bunch of Afghans and Americans seemed to be reacting, or not reacting, in Kabul today, I'd say for a little while we'll be able to walk with our chins up a little higher and our chests out a little further. But mostly, we'll just move on with whatever we were doing.
I wouldn't expect much different anywhere else -- not even in Kandahar or Karachi.