WASHINGTON: US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday the death of Osama Bin Laden could be a “game-changer” for the US-led war effort in Afghanistan.
In his first public remarks since US Navy commandos killed the al Qaeda founder in his hideout in Pakistan on Monday, Gates said it was too soon to say for certain what the effect of the raid might be on the nine-year-old war in Afghanistan.
“I think in terms of the impact of the killing of Osama Bin Laden, in terms of the situation in Afghanistan, I think that there is a possibility that it could be a game changer,” Gates told service members at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina.
The Pentagon chief suggested that the killing of Bin Laden could aggravate tensions between the Taliban insurgency, which includes spiritual leader Mullah Omar, and al Qaeda.
“Bin Laden and Mullah Omar had a very close personal relationship. And there are others in the Taliban who have felt betrayed by al Qaeda, that it was because of al Qaeda’s attack on the United States that the Taliban got thrown out of Afghanistan,” said Gates, according to a transcript released by the Pentagon.
He added that it was “too early to make a judgment in terms of the impact inside Afghanistan, but I think in six months or so we’ll probably know if it’s made a difference.”
About 100,000 US troops are deployed in Afghanistan in a protracted counter-insurgency campaign against the Taliban, which was ousted in a US invasion in 2001 for its support for al Qaeda.
Gates spoke a day after holding a private meeting at an undisclosed location with the team of US Navy SEALs who carried out the raid on Bin Laden’s compound. No members of the US assault team were killed or wounded in the operation.
“He wanted to personally and privately express his admiration and appreciation for their extraordinary service and historic achievement,” Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said.
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