WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The war against radical Islamic jihadists will be long and fought on many fronts. The Bush administration is employing military, diplomatic, law enforcement and legal efforts to bring the terrorists to justice, and progress is being made -- so much so, that the next phase of the war began last weekend. It wasn't a military operation by soldiers and Marines in Iraq; nor was it a new offensive by John Ashcroft or Tom Ridge here at home.
The next phase of the war against radical Islamic jihadists was launched by approximately 8 million Afghanis who went to the polls, under threat of death by Taliban and Al Qaeda sympathizers, to freely cast their vote for interim President Hamid Karzai or one of his 15 opponents. It was the first free election in the nation's history.
Though Afghanis have previously attempted Westernization, never before has the country experienced the responsibility of electing their own leaders as they did ON Oct. 9. In 1926, Afghan King Amanullah attempted to decrease the power of militant religious leaders, but he was quickly deposed. His cousin, Muhammad Nadir Khan, tried to continue his reforms but was assassinated as a result. Throughout the remainder of the 20th century, Afghanis continued to chafe under the callous grip of regional warlords.
For the last 25 years, Afghanistan has been at war. Soviet troops invaded in 1979 and for 10 years fought the Mujahideen. By 1996, fundamentalist students calling themselves "the Taliban" fought their way to power and subjected the Afghan people to a particularly harsh form of Islamic law.
It was under this regime that Al Qaeda set up terrorist training camps that produced terrorists who would attack the World Trade Center during the Clinton years, kill 19 sailors aboard the USS Cole and carry out the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Just three short years later, the Taliban is toppled, the training camps are gone and the Afghan people are rejoicing that their U.S. liberators have given power to their voices.
They showed their appreciation by trekking to one of the 4,800 polling sites located in public buildings or mountain rest areas. In some places, there was over a foot of snow on the ground. Voters turned out in the early morning, well before the polls opened, and waited up to three or four hours to cast that historic ballot. Many citizens marked the dignity of the occasion by donning their best clothes and waiting in lines that stretched for nearly two miles.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.