By Colby Itkowitz, The Morning Call
As the reality of Osama bin Laden's death settled in Monday, a retired
Navy admiral, an Iraq War veteran and a sitting U.S. congressman weighed
in on what comes next for military strategy in Afghanistan, relations
with Pakistan and security at home.
But first all three shared their elation over the shooting of a man who killed so many Americans nearly a decade ago.
Former Congressman Joe Sestak worked in the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. He left the building no more than 20 minutes before a jet slammed into it, killing some of his own employees.
"I feel a sense of national justice and personal justice," Sestak said of bin Laden's death at the hands of U.S. special forces.
Patrick Murphy, the first Iraq War veteran to serve in Congress and now a lawyer, said he felt pride as an American and as a former soldier.
And Congressman Charlie Dent, R-15th District, who has made homeland security issues a priority, said he was overjoyed at the news, which he heard through television reports.
Now that bin Laden has been killed, the debate over whether the United States needs to remain in Afghanistan will take center stage. Some argue there's no longer a pretext for continuing the war there.
Sestak said one incident shouldn't change an overall military strategy, but that President Barack Obama needs to set clear reasons for staying in Afghanistan or he cannot expect continued public support.
The real purpose of being there, said Sestak, a rear admiral while in the Navy, is to eradicate al-Qaida globally.
"We have to recognize that what we have happening from Yemen to Bahrain to Libya is an opportunity that we can capitalize on … We've got to align ourselves with these emerging governments if we really do want to improve conditions," Sestak said. "Symbolically we've got bin Laden and strategically we've got these openings."
For Murphy, a former Army captain who was serving in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was captured, the fight against terrorists abroad isn't finished with the death of bin Laden. But he said the victory should allow the United States to stay on schedule bringing troops home from Afghanistan beginning in July.
Dent said the United States had been successful in keeping bin Laden's operational capabilities largely diminished, but the threat of al-Qaida still exists in other parts of the Middle East known as the Arabian peninsula. Dent, who wrote legislation to strip al-Qaida cleric Anwar Awlaki of his American citizenship, said the United States needs to go after Awlaki.
"These organizations are larger than any one individual," Dent said. "It would be a mistake to think if we take out the leader they won't be replaced."
Dent was also the most forceful about U.S. relations with Pakistan and whether people there knew more than they let on about bin Laden's location in a compound just north of the capital city. Dent, who visited Pakistan in September 2010, said he's long been worried about Pakistan's lack of collaboration.
"I want to know what the Pakistani government knew," Dent said. "I am somewhat astounded that Osama bin Laden was holed up so close to the capital and not in the mountainous region where I was always led to believe he was … [Pakistan was] a pretty good partner when there was a mutual threat, but if there was a threat solely against us and not against the Pakistani government, they haven't been helpful."
Sestak agreed that it seemed unlikely that people in the area would not have known who was living among them.
Dent also was most wary of increased violence in the aftermath of bin Laden's death. "We must remain vigilant and assume al-Qaida and other radical elements will retaliate, whether they be here or elsewhere," he said
Murphy was eager to talk about the excitement of the day, not the what-ifs of the future.
"I think it's pretty widespread," he said, "that people have been rejoicing that a mass murderer is finally in hell."