While world focuses on Osama bin Laden's death, Afghan war heats up
The death of Osama bin Laden is a major victory for the US, but experts say it's unlikely to have any immediate impact on the ground in Afghanistan.
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But as the war heats up, with the Taliban launching its spring offensive, so is talk among foreign policy experts about how long American support for it will last now that Mr. bin Laden is dead.
There are few indications, however, that even with the mastermind behind 9/11 out of the picture, the security situation in Afghanistan will improve.
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Throughout the past several days, Taliban militants attacked security forces in Nuristan Province, wounding six policemen Tuesday night. A NATO air strike reportedly killed seven Taliban in Nangarhar Province early Wednesday morning, and on Tuesday an International Security Assistance Force soldier died in a roadside bomb attack in eastern Afghanistan.
“It’s possible that fighting will continue at least in the short- to medium-term, and in that regard one can say that the death of bin Laden isn’t going to significantly bring down those levels of fighting,” says Farzana Shaikh, an associate fellow for the Chatham House’s Asia Program. She adds, “bin Laden’s death provides an opportunity for President Obama to begin serious negotiations toward a political settlement in Afghanistan.”
Throughout the past 10 years, the Taliban and Al Qaeda have had extremely limited contact, points out the Taliban’s spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid. Additionally, bin Laden had very little to do with the Taliban’s daily operations. The Taliban had said there is not enough proof to determine if bin Laden is dead. Either way, says Mr. Mujahid, it will not affect the group's plans.
“It is not going to affect the jihad,” he says. “America and other countries invaded Afghanistan and this is an issue of getting rid of the infidels. This is not a fight to get power, control, or money. This fight will never end until the Americans have been defeated here in Afghanistan.”
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The Taliban announced the start of their spring offensive just days before the assassination of bin Laden. Fighting in Afghanistan traditionally does not peak this early in the summer, so it remains to be seen just how violent it will be this year. This spring has already seen an 80 percent increase in insurgent-initiated attacks, compared with the same time last year.
The US and NATO have announced plans to begin a gradual drawdown of forces in mid-July, however there have been no official announcements about how many troops will be removed or from what region. Following bin Laden's death, a number of people, including US Sen. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana, have suggested a hastened reduction of forces. France, which has about 4,000 troops in Afghanistan, is also debating speeding up its withdraw plans.
Throughout Afghanistan, bin Laden had lost much popularity in recent years and is not seen as a particularly heroic figure by many Afghans.
“In the long-term, Osama is not important. For Al Qaeda and the Taliban, when someone is killed, he is finished. The two groups just think about the future and they’ll keep fighting for their cause just the same,” says Haji Mahmoud Halimi, a military expert in Nangarhar.