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Schweitzer: With bin Laden dead, U.S. should leave Afghanistan

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The United States must take one more step to make things right following the killing of Osama bin Laden, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer said Monday.

Bin Laden's death "ought to put us in helicopters leaving Afghanistan," he said. "...There's no reason to stay. He's now dead. He's gone."

Schweitzer spoke with members of the Missoulian's editorial board Monday, a meeting originally scheduled to discuss the just-ended 2011 legislative session, which until Sunday night was the biggest news in Montana.

That news quickly was eclipsed by President Barack Obama's announcement that the U.S. military had killed bin Laden, who directed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Along with millions of others, Schweitzer watched the coverage of reaction to the momentous event. The raucous celebrations around the country troubled him.

After all, he said, the nearly 3,000 deaths on Sept. 11 that launched the hunt for bin Laden are an unthinkable tragedy, perhaps best marked by somber reflection.

"I don't believe we ought to be dancing in the streets and waving American flags," he said. "... This is not like winning a hockey game," he said. "We killed an evil individual."

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that stemmed from the 9/11 attacks have claimed the lives of about 5,500 members of the U.S. military. But the conflict in Afghanistan quickly ceased to have anything to do with bin Laden, Schweitzer said.

"We went to Afghanistan for one reason and one only. We were going to shut down Al Qaeda and find and kill Osama bin Laden. There was no mention of the Taliban."

Yet Al Qaeda is largely gone from Afghanistan and U.S. troops are now focused on the Taliban, he said.

"We're a great country, but we weren't fighting one man. This is a clash of cultures, a clash of identities and it didn't end [Sunday] night when Osama bin Laden was killed. There's still something we need to resolve, but it doesn't mean we need to stay in Afghanistan or Iraq."

Schweitzer quoted his friend, the late Walter Breuning of Great Falls, who was the world's oldest man when he died last month at age 114.

The last time he saw Breuning - "a hell of an American" - the two joshed about running for president, the governor said. Breuning, said Schweitzer, straightened his tie and allowed as to how he might consider the idea. As president, Schweitzer asked him, what would he do?

"He said we had no business going in there and that we should leave," Schweitzer said.

And Schweitzer heartily concurred.

"A pox on all their houses," he said. "Load up. Leave. There's nothing to win. I don't even know what winning is there."

Missoulian reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268, gwen.florio@missoulian.com, or CopsAndCourts.com.

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