Table: Four War Scenarios

The U.S. and its allies face several complex outcomes in the wake of opening strikes against Afghanistan. None is clear-cut. Here are a few possibilities:

THE NOT-SO-QUICK KILL

Allied bombing sends the Taliban scurrying. Northern Alliance insurgents secure the country. U.S. troops eventually snare Osama bin Laden and destroy his bases. Cost: U.S. casualties; the martyrdom of bin Laden spurs new terrorist attacks; domestic pressure to take the war on terrorism to countries such as Iraq, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

A LONG GOODBYE

U.S. forces fail to capture bin Laden--after months of painstaking, cave-by-cave searching. Critics warn that the U.S. is being drawn into a Vietnam-style quagmire. Reports surface that bin Laden has fled to a new country, promising to reconstitute his terror cells. Cost: Strains on antiterror coalition; threats of new terror attacks.

THE BIG WIN

The Taliban collapses--as U.S. and British commandos root out the al Qaeda network. With bin Laden gone, moderate Muslim regimes grow stronger, and fundamentalist groups wither. U.S. pressure prompts new talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and the U.S. forges warmer ties with Russia, Pakistan, and Iran. Cost: huge increases in U.S. economic and military aid.

OSAMA'S REVENGE

Bin Laden is taken, but Islamic extremists from Pakistan to Indonesia foment uprisings. Some alliance governments topple, and threats of anti-Western insurrection grow. Cost: Allies enter a new cold war; the world economy suffers from instability in the oil-producing Middle East; Israelis and Arabs go to war.

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