KABUL — The U.S. military commander responsible for Afghanistan’s eastern border with Pakistan said Monday that al-Qaeda and affiliated insurgents were “definitely hurt” by the death of Osama bin Laden but that the conflict in Afghanistan was unlikely to change dramatically in the short term.
Maj. Gen. John F. Campbell said the killing of bin Laden has the potential to discourage new recruits to al-Qaeda’s cause and sow discord within the organization. But fighting in the days since the al-Qaeda leader’s death has remained at normal levels, he said, and insurgents have predicted an increase in violence. “It’s not the end of the war, as some people are saying,” Campbell said in a telephone interview. “One man doesn’t make the war, and so we’ve got to continue to stay at it.”
Afghanistan’s east poses some of the most difficult problems for U.S. troops in this country. The region has a dangerous mix of insurgent groups, including most of the small number of al-Qaeda foot soldiers in Afghanistan, as well as mountainous terrain and a porous border with the tribal regions of Pakistan, where insurgent leaders take sanctuary.
Bin Laden’s death has prompted fresh debate about the pace of the U.S. military withdrawal that President Obama is expected to begin in July. The United States has made a commitment to stay through 2014 and build up Afghanistan’s security forces, Campbell said, and “we will need to continue to honor that.”
“I do believe [Regional Command] East is probably going to be the last place in Afghanistan we pull out of,” he said. “This is the most complex problem set I’ve seen; the enemy is much more than just Taliban.”
Campbell said he had been worried that tension between the United States and Pakistan after bin Laden’s death could disrupt the lower-level military cooperation that has taken place between his brigade and battalion commanders and their counterparts in Pakistan. He said he had expected that “border flag” meetings — where the two sides coordinate operations and share information — could be shut down. But one such meeting has already taken place in Paktika province since the death, he said.
“We need Pakistan in this fight. I think we’ve got to continue to build trust with them,” he said. “We’re working very hard at our level to build the relationships.”