US says bin Laden's death does not end Afghan war

By Deb Riechmann

Associated Press

Published: Monday, May 2 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, center, flanked by Vice Presidents Mohammed Qasim Fahim, center left, and Karim Khalili, center right, addresses the media at the Presidential Palace in Kabul 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

KABUL, Afghanistan — The U.S. and key allies fighting Taliban-led insurgents in Afghanistan insisted Monday that the death of the al-Qaida leader, who once found shelter there, did not mean a speedy end to the war or a rapid withdrawal of international troops.

The warnings that Osama bin Laden's killing in neighboring Pakistan would not slow the fighting nonetheless ran up against arguments that the real war against al-Qaida had shifted to beyond the country's borders. Among those who seized on that point was Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, who has pressed for a smaller military footprint in his country.

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

Anti-foreigner sentiment is growing among Afghans increasingly tired of the nearly decade-long war and the failure of billions of dollars in international aid to improve their lives. And U.S. officials could feel pressure at home as well.

Snuffing out the al-Qaida network has always been the top goal of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. Now that bin Laden is dead, calls could increase from war-weary Americans to speed up withdrawal of the nearly 100,000 U.S. troops still fighting the Taliban, years after the al-Qaida leadership they once harbored fled to Pakistan.

"The killing of bin Laden outside of Afghanistan raises a question: If this is a fight to destroy al-Qaida, and al-Qaida is not there but in Pakistan, should Afghanistan really be the focus?" said Vali Nasr, until recently a senior U.S. State Department adviser on Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Nasr said bin Laden's death on Pakistani soil reduces the importance of the Afghan war for U.S. national security. It could make it easier for the U.S. to wind down the war there and focus more on Pakistan, he said.

"We could come to the conclusion that the sideshow ought to be the main show," he said.

For now, the U.S. is insisting that bin Laden's death will not trigger a rapid withdrawal.

The Taliban just launched its yearly spring offensive in Afghanistan and deadly attacks still plague many parts of the country.

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

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

Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said his country's 1,500 troops in southern Afghanistan will "stay the course until our mission is complete."

Afghanistan's Taliban government hosted bin Laden and al-Qaida's training camps until it was toppled in the U.S.-led invasion triggered by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Bin Laden's large financial contributions to the Taliban government made him a valuable asset to their regime, and Taliban leaders refused requests to hand him over after he was linked to the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

After the start of the U.S. bombardment in 2001, bin Laden and the rest of al-Qaida's central leadership slipped into hiding and then across the border to Pakistan, where they found shelter among anti-government tribes along the border.

But back in Afghanistan, the remnants of the Taliban remained a resilient fighting force, and bin Laden's death now doesn't change that, some argued.

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