Bin Laden’s Death May Impact Afghanistan, Gates Says

SEYMOUR-JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C., May 6, 2011 — The killing of Osama bin Laden “could be a game chang­er” that affects the sit­u­a­tion in Afghanistan, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said here today.

Still, it will take time before the sit­u­a­tion clar­i­fies, Gates told about 450 air­men at the 335th and 336th Fight­er Squadrons.

“Bin Laden and [Tal­iban leader] Mul­lah Omar had a very close per­son­al rela­tion­ship, and there are oth­ers in the Tal­iban who have felt betrayed by al-Qai­da — [they feel] it was because of al-Qaida’s attack on the Unit­ed States that the Tal­iban got thrown out of Afghanistan,” the sec­re­tary said. “We’ll have to see what that rela­tion­ship looks like.” Offi­cials may know in six months or so how bin Laden’s death has affect­ed al-Qai­da oper­a­tions in Afghanistan and else­where, Gates said.

The sec­re­tary described U.S. rela­tions in the region as com­plex. Using Pak­istan as an exam­ple, the sec­re­tary said he would have been astound­ed if some­one had told him two years ago that Pak­istan would have 140,000 troops on its west­ern bor­der with Afghanistan and was going to dri­ve the Pak­istani Tal­iban and al-Qai­da from South Waziris­tan and the Swat Val­ley. “I would have said that’s not going to hap­pen, but it has,” he said.

Pak­istan has pulled troops from its bor­der with India and has tak­en thou­sands of casu­al­ties in the fight against the ter­ror­ists. Pak­istan also allows a huge per­cent­age of the logis­tics sent to troops in Afghanistan to flow across their coun­try, Gates said.

The Unit­ed States and Pak­istan are firm part­ners in the fight against ter­ror­ism, Gates said. How­ev­er, he added, the Pak­ista­nis may be con­cerned that Unit­ed States’ cur­rent inter­est in the region may dimin­ish with time.

“At the same time there is no ques­tion that they hedge their bets,” he said of Pakistan’s lead­er­ship. “Their view is that we have aban­doned them four times in the last 45 years, and they are still not sure we are going to stay in the region. They saw us leave after the Sovi­ets were thrown out of Afghanistan in 1989 and they are not con­fi­dent that we won’t leave again when we have accom­plished our mis­sion in Afghanistan.”

Pak­istan and the Unit­ed States have to keep work­ing on their rela­tion­ship, Gates said. At the tac­ti­cal lev­el — across the bor­der with Afghanistan — the rela­tion­ship is good and get­ting bet­ter, he said. U.S. and Pak­istani forces take turns being the “ham­mer and anvil” with the Tal­iban stuck in the mid­dle.

“I would say it is a rela­tion­ship we just have to keep work­ing at,” he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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