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Why bin Laden killing won't dampen Afghan fight

Even though the Taliban has ties with Al Qaeda, the Afghan militants are focused on fighting a national insurgency, not waging global jihad.

By Correspondent / May 7, 2011

Rangeen Kaman, a barber in Kabul, says he's sad to hear that Osama bin Laden died because he was a fellow Muslim. But beyond that, he doesn't care about anything bin Laden stood for.

Tom A. Peter/Special to TCSM

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Kabul, Afghanistan

As the Afghanistan war heats up with the launch of the Taliban's spring offensive, so does talk among foreign-policy experts about how long American support for it will last now that Osama bin Laden is dead.

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Yet there are few indications that even with the Al Qaeda mastermind behind 9/11 out of the picture, the security situation in Afghanistan will improve.

In recent days, Taliban militants attacked security forces in Nuristan Province, wounding six policemen. A NATO airstrike reportedly killed seven Taliban in Nangarhar Province early on May 4, and on May 3 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 Asia Program at Chatham House, a London think tank.

Though the Taliban and Al Qaeda are sometimes lumped together in the West, the two have key ideological differences and competing goals. The Taliban are focused on national insurgency, while Al Qaeda is more interested in global jihad.

Al Qaeda's footprint in Afghanistan has also decreased markedly since NATO forces invaded in 2001. Some estimates now place the number of Al Qaeda operatives here at less than 100 fighters. And the group has come to increasingly rely on the Afghan Taliban organization for its survival, rather than the other way around.

"I don't think it's going to have any impact on the Taliban. I don't think Osama's death is going to demoralize, or persuade, or provoke them to take their revenge. Their fight is different," says Rahimullah Yusufzai, an independent analyst and editor of Pakistan's The News International.

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After nearly 10 years of war and thousands of civilian and military deaths, average Afghans also question whether Mr. bin Laden's death will change anything.

"When he arrived here it was good when he fought the Russians, but suddenly everything changed and he was the opposite of what he was before," says Saleem, a bicycle repairman in Kabul. "Maybe [his death] will help, maybe it won't. He was only one person and the insurgents come from everywhere."

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