Afghan war still not over, US warns
Some argue fight has shifted out of weary nation
KABUL — The United States and key allies fighting Taliban-led insurgents in Afghanistan insisted yesterday that the death of Osama bin Laden, who once found shelter there, would not mean a speedy end to the war or a rapid withdrawal of international troops.
Still, there were fresh arguments that the real war against Al Qaeda had shifted to beyond Afghan borders.
“For years, we have said that the fight against terrorism is not in Afghan villages and houses,’’ said Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, who has pressed for a smaller military footprint in his country. “It is in safe havens, and today that was shown to be true. Stop bombarding Afghan villages and searching Afghan people.’’
Antiforeigner sentiment is growing among Afghans increasingly tired of the nearly decadelong war and the failure of billions of dollars in international aid to improve their lives. And US officials could feel pressure at home as well.
Snuffing out the Al Qaeda network has always been the top goal of US 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 US troops still fighting the Taliban, years after the Al Qaeda 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 Qaeda, and Al Qaeda is not there but in Pakistan, should Afghanistan really be the focus?’’ said Vali Nasr, until recently a senior US State Department adviser on Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Nasr said bin Laden’s death on Pakistani soil reduces the importance of the Afghan war for US national security. It could make it easier for the United States 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 United States is saying bin Laden’s death will not trigger a rapid withdrawal. The Taliban just launched its 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 US 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 Qaeda’s training camps until it was toppled in the United States-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 US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
After the start of the US bombardment in 2001, bin Laden and the rest of Al Qaeda’s central leadership slipped into hiding and then across the border to Pakistan, where they found shelter among antigovernment tribes along the border.
But back in Afghanistan, the remnants of the Taliban remained a resilient fighting force, and bin Laden’s death doesn’t change that, some analysts said.
In a conference call with reporters, Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, said he would continue to push for a significant reduction in US forces from Afghanistan this July, not a symbolic one.
“Security needs to be in the hands of the Afghans,’’ Levin said. “The killing of bin Laden doesn’t change my view, it reinforces it. Afghanistan is in even better position to take responsibility. Whatever direction is coming from a Pakistan safe haven no longer has the direction bin Laden could have given it.’’