U.S., NATO: Bin Laden death won't end Afghan mission

By Rahim Faiez

Associated Press

Published: Monday, May 2 2011 7:48 a.m. MDT

Afghan President Hamid Karzai addresses the media at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, May 2, 2011. Karzai lauded Osama bin Laden's death as a serious blow to terrorism Monday and argued that the strike in Pakistan proves the real fight against terrorists is outside his country's borders.

Shah Marai, Pool, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

KABUL, Afghanistan — U.S. and NATO officials sought to reassure Afghans on Monday that Osama bin Laden's death will not weaken the international mission in Afghanistan, even as the Afghan president said the successful strike in Pakistan shows that the fight against terrorism should focus more outside his country's borders.

The conflicting statements underscore the confusing nature of the war in Afghanistan, which has vacillated between building up the Afghan state and reducing troops down to small strike forces who just target high-profile terrorist leaders.

When he decided to expand the U.S. military force in Afghanistan in 2009, President Barack Obama said the goal was to "disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida."

Now it's unclear what bin Laden's death will mean for the future of Afghanistan, where about 150,000 NATO troops — most of them American — are embroiled in daily fighting with Taliban insurgents. On Saturday, the Taliban announced the beginning of their spring offensive after having shown their strength by launching a string of deadly attacks from within government and military compounds.

President Hamid Karzai lauded bin Laden's death as a serious blow to terrorism.

"American forces have killed Osama bin Laden, delivering him his due punishment," Karzai told an assembly of district government officials in Kabul, prompting the hall to erupt in applause.

But Karzai also used his speech to again chastise international forces for concentrating so much of their military effort in Afghanistan rather than in neighboring Pakistan, where al-Qaida and Taliban leaders reportedly live.

"For years we have said that the fight against terrorism is not in Afghan villages and houses. It is in safe havens, and today that was shown to be true," Karzai said. "Stop bombarding Afghan villages and searching Afghan people."

His words underscore what many Afghans chafe at — the fact that international allies hold the power in their country even as they worry that without NATO troops Afghanistan would quickly fall back into civil war.

The American ambassador in Kabul promised Afghans that the U.S. will not abandon Afghanistan now that bin Laden has been eliminated.

"This victory will not mark the end of our effort against terrorism. America's strong support for the people of Afghanistan will continue as before," Ambassador Karl Eikenberry said in a statement.

Similarly, NATO said its mission in Afghanistan will continue uninterrupted.

"NATO allies and partners will continue their mission to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for extremism, but develops in peace and security," the alliance said.

A businessman in Kabul province warned that a U.S. departure would be disastrous.

"If the U.S. troops leave in 24 hours the Afghan government will collapse," said Mohammad Qassim Zazai, who sells antiques and carpets in the capital.

But Zazai and a number of other Afghans said the U.S. mission in their country has grown much beyond the search for bin Laden, so they weren't worried that troops will leave more quickly now that he is dead.

"Afghanistan is a very strategic place for U.S. troops. They want to be present in this region, they are discussing having permanent bases," said Abdul Satar Kahawsi, a parliamentarian from eastern Parwan province. Kahawsi said few Afghans even believe that the announced July drawdown of troops will really be significant because of Afghanistan's proximity to Pakistan and Iran.

Karzai pledged that Afghanistan stands ready to do its part to help fight terrorists and extremists.

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