COMBAT OUTPOST ANDAR, Afghanistan, June 6, 2011 — The death of Osama bin Laden has been noted by the people of Afghanistan, but it hasn’t made any discernable difference to the Taliban yet, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told soldiers here today.
But it could mean changes in attitudes on the horizon, he said.
Bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar were very close, the secretary said to the soldiers of the Task Force Ramrod.
“If I was in the Taliban, I would say, ‘What’s al-Qaida ever done for me, except get me kicked out of Afghanistan?’ ” the secretary said. “You might see a growing divide between al-Qaida and the Taliban.”
American and Afghan forces must keep the military pressure on through the summer and hang onto all the territory taken over the past year, the secretary said.
“If we can expand the security bubble, especially in the south, and if you guys can keep disrupting them up here and preventing the Taliban bed-down in Ghazni and elsewhere, then I think sometime the end of this year these guys will start thinking seriously about reconciliation,” the secretary said.
“That certainly is my hope, but I don’t expect it to make much difference in Afghanistan in the short term. But it could be a game changer long-term,” he added. Gates also said relations with Pakistan are complicated.
“The fact is, we need each other,” Gates said. The two nations have different priorities, he added, and working that out takes time.
The Pakistani military has 140,000 troops in the federally administered tribal area along its border with Afghanistan, and has taken thousands of casualties battling terrorist groups there, Gates said.
“There’s no question that the sanctuaries in Pakistan are a problem for you,” the secretary told the soldiers here. “But this is something you just have to keep working at. It’s like a troubled marriage — you kind of keep working at it.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)