As Americans became transfixed by the violence and chaos in Libya, calls for U.S. military action arose across the political spectrum. Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman, among others, advocated the creation of a no-fly zone and arming anti-government forces. Meanwhile, opponents of military action have warned that the use of force is almost never as easy, quick, or cheap as it first appears; Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and U.S. Central Command’s General James Mattis have noted that even establishing a no-fly zone would be difficult and dangerous.
Four days before the fall of Kabul in November 2001, Osama bin Laden was still in town. The Al Qaeda leader’s movements before and after September 11 are difficult to trace precisely, but, just prior to the attacks, we know that he appeared in Kandahar and urged his followers to evacuate to safer locations in anticipation of U.S. retaliation. Then, on November 8, he was in Kabul, despite the fact that U.S. forces and their Afghan allies were closing in on the city.