Tonight, President Barack Obama announced that U.S. troops killed Osama bin Laden in a compound in Pakistan. Addressing the nation at a last-minute press conference, Obama reminded the country that he had made it a priority to capture or kill bin Laden, "a terrorist who's responsible for the murder of thousands of men, women, and children." Obama said he had first received intelligence on bin Laden's location in August and last week had determined that there was enough information to take action. Today, troops went into the compound, and bin Laden died in a firefight. The United States took custody of his body.
Catching bin Laden was, of course, the rallying cry that took us to Afghanistan. The nation's fear led us, with scant evidence, into an extended war in Iraq. Ten years after the attacks and eight years to the day after Bush declared "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq, the president scorned by Bush's supporters accomplished at least one goal in the"war on terror."
Sometimes it seems hard to remember, but Osama bin Laden was the start of it all. It's hard to remember the days after September 11, when going into Afghanistan didn't seem like a crazy idea. But it is easy to remember the site of those towers coming down. As Obama said, it's a day seared into our national memory. "On that day, no matter where we came from ... we were united as one American family," he said.
Obama said that this wasn't the end of the war on terror, and of course it isn't: One of its peculiar orthodoxies was that it hinged on the fate of one man, and yet our national-security response was a global enterprise against an amorphous idea.
In tonight's speech, the president called on us to remember the sacrifices made by Americans who have fought and died in Afghanistan and Iraq in the years since the attacks. "We must and we will remain vigilant at home and abroad. As we do, we must also reaffirm that the us is not and never will be at war with Islam," the president said.
It may not be the end, but it does feel like a new beginning. And it was hard not to feel connected when Obama reminded us, as he so often does, what the American spirit really is. He called on us to return to that sense of unity we felt on the day of the attacks: "I know that it has, at times, frayed. But today's achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country."
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