Impact of bin Laden’s Death Still Unknown, Gates Says

CAMP EGGERS, Afghanistan, June 4, 2011 — It is too ear­ly to see if the death of al-Qai­da leader Osama bin Laden will have an effect on the fight­ing in Afghanistan, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said here today.

Speak­ing dur­ing a news con­fer­ence with Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai, the sec­re­tary also said the respon­si­ble draw­down of Amer­i­can forces ordered by Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma will begin next month.

Bin Laden used Afghanistan as a safe haven for years before the Sept. 11, 2001, ter­ror­ist attacks on the Unit­ed States. He had years to devel­op rela­tion­ships with local Afghans, and he was a par­tic­u­lar­ly close friend with Afghan Tal­iban leader Mul­lah Omar.

The draw­down must be cau­tious to begin, Gates said. “It is too soon yet to see the con­se­quences or mean­ing of the elim­i­na­tion of bin Laden,” he added.

Offi­cials hope that because of the close ties between Mul­lah Omar and bin Laden, the al-Qai­da leader’s death at the hands of Navy SEALs in Pak­istan will lead to many in the Tal­iban to walk away from al-Qai­da and dis­avow the orga­ni­za­tion, the sec­re­tary said.

“I think it’s too ear­ly to tell. My hope is that we would have some indi­ca­tion per­haps lat­er this year of the impact,” the sec­re­tary said. “But I think the impor­tant thing is for us to see through where we are today. We have enjoyed a lot of suc­cess over the last year to 18 months. We need to con­tin­ue that.”

If coali­tion and Afghan forces can con­tin­ue to hold the ter­ri­to­ry that has been recap­tured in Hel­mand and Kan­da­har provinces, then “we will be in a posi­tion toward the end of this year to per­haps have an open­ing with respect to rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, or at least be in a posi­tion to say we’ve turned a cor­ner here in Afghanistan,” Gates said.

“I think mak­ing any change pri­or to that time would be pre­ma­ture,” he added.

Karzai said he hopes those in the Tal­iban who are not affil­i­at­ed with ter­ror groups will “take this oppor­tu­ni­ty to return to their coun­try in peace and dig­ni­ty and par­tic­i­pate with the rest of the Afghan peo­ple in rebuild­ing their coun­try.”

The pres­i­dent said Afghan forces will con­tin­ue to take on Tal­iban fight­ers, but that “the Afghan peo­ple would want that this cam­paign … does not bring them casu­al­ties in the form of more civil­ians bom­bard­ed or night raids that cause deaths to civil­ians, or deten­tions of civil­ians that cause suf­fer­ing.”

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

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