Commentary: What does Bin Laden's death mean?

While the boisterous jubilation of many Americans, many of them young, at the news of Osama bin Laden's death was to be expected, perhaps solemn reflection is a better response.

The assassination of bin Laden removes an evil force from the face of the earth. It needed to be done.

Certainly, Americans are entitled to take great comfort in the fact that the most wanted terrorist in the world, the leader of al-Qaida, the mastermind of 9/11, the elusive, shadowy enemy who has evaded us for nearly 12 years no longer is a threat. But, as President Barack Obama and many others have noted, this is not the end of our struggle against the threat of terrorism.

As crowds celebrate, troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and personnel stationed in embassies and outposts in hotspots around the world, must be on high alert in the likely event that al-Qaida seeks retaliation. They are at greater risk today because of bin Laden's death.

After the high-fiving, plenty of work remains.

But there also is reason for optimism that the killing of bin Laden ultimately will lessen the terrorist threat, not only because one of its leading practitioners is dead but also because of the message it sends his cohorts: The United States is dogged, determined, willing, and we will not be cowed or defeated by terrorists.

The tactical accomplishment of taking out bin Laden and his lieutenants inside a heavily fortified compound was astounding. We can only marvel at the skills of the small team of Navy SEALs who not only managed to locate and kill bin Laden but also removed his body for positive identification.

But the way in which this operation evolved out also is awe-inspiring. The U.S. government has sought bin Laden for more than a decade, since President Bill Clinton ordered a missile strike at a location where bin Laden was thought to be hiding.

That effort failed. So did the mission to flush bin Laden out of the mountainous region of Bora Bora, Afghanistan, after the 9/11 attacks.

And so have many other attempts to locate the al-Qaida chief who kept taunting us with videos and recorded messages. But according to White House briefings Monday, CIA operatives got information four years ago about a courier who was close to bin Laden.

Years passed as evidence and intelligence were painstakingly gathered and the identity of the courier could be verified. As long ago as last August, agents believed they had found bin Laden's compound - not in Afghanistan but in Pakistan, in the heavily populated city of Abbottabad - and began to hatch a plan to launch a strike.

Innumerable planning sessions and meetings with the president occurred as the plan slowly moved forward. Obama did not issue the final order to proceed until Friday - just before departing to view tornado damage in Alabama and before appearing that night at the annual Washington Correspondents Dinner.

For months, the plan had remained a well-kept secret. The government of Pakistan was not told of the impending strike within its borders. U.S. congressional leaders were briefed only at the last minute. The high level of security surrounding this mission undoubtedly contributed to its success.

So, now, Americans must ask themselves what the death of bin Laden will mean.

We hope it provides some sense of revenge or relief or release for the thousands of families who lost loved ones on Sept. 11, 2001.

For all Americans, bin Laden's death can be regarded as a high point in the long effort to run al-Qaida's leadership to ground. Only bin Laden's No. 2 man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, described by some as the real brains of al-Qaida, remains at large. We might be close to beheading the beast.

But this clearly does not mean the end of the battle to thwart extremist Islamic militancy. The Middle East and northern Africa remain breeding grounds for bin Laden's successor. We need to salute the efforts of all involved in this successful mission and then brace ourselves for what might come next.

But we also have reason for optimism. Observant Middle Easterners will note that many of those who engage in terroristic acts have met the same fate as bin Laden and his co-conspirators.

We hope that, with the advance of the Arab Spring, a new respect for freedom, representative government and personal rights will emerge in the region, stifling the rage and sense of helplessness that helps nurture terrorism. And perhaps bin Laden's death will empower ordinary, peaceful people in Pakistan, Afghanistan and other terrorist havens to reject the hate-mongers in their midst.

Finally, we should reiterate something Obama took pains to note during his statement Sunday night: We are not at war with the Muslim world.

More than half the people bin Laden was responsible for killing were Muslims. He was their enemy, too.

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