Bin Laden Death Could Change Attitudes, Gates Says

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)

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