WASHINGTON — The death of Osama bin Laden could encourage Afghan insurgents to lay down their weapons and spur a possible peace settlement to end the war, a top US general said Tuesday.
“There’s a great potential for many of the insurgents to say, ‘hey, I want to reintegrate’” back into Afghan society, Major General John Campbell, who commands NATO-led forces in the east, told reporters via video link.
Videos seized from a US raid on bin Laden’s compound, showing the Al-Qaeda chief wrapped in a blanket looking “alone and desperate,” could cause insurgents to question continuing the fight, said Campbell, speaking from Bagram.
“I do think the death of bin Laden will cause some of them to think twice again. And they’re going to say,’Hey, why am I doing this?’”
But asked to elaborate on the possible effect of bin Laden’s death on reconciliation efforts, Campbell said: “I can’t put a number on it. I can’t put a timeframe on it.”
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last week that the removal of bin Laden could be a possible “game-changer” in the war, undermining ties between Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Campbell said the demise of bin Laden would not alter the US strategy in the nearly ten-year-old war, in which 100,000 American troops are deployed.
Bin Laden was an important figure, Campbell said, “but one man does not make this war on terrorism.”
“I don’t think the war’s over. I don’t think the loss of bin Laden will cause us to change our strategy, at least in RC (regional command) East,” he said.
The general, who oversees troops from the 101st Airborne Division, said there had been no spike in insurgent attacks in the east since the May 2 raid that killed bin Laden at his hideout in Pakistan.
“In the short term we have not seen a big impact here in RC East,” he said.
Campbell also said that after the US raid on bin Laden’s residence, carried out without advance notice to the Islamabad government, communication with Pakistani commanders along the border was cut for one or two days.
After the operation “for a day or two we had some communication issues,” he said. But contacts appeared to be back to normal now, he added.
Campbell, who is due to hand over his command in the east next week after a year on the job, said about 500 fighters had quit the insurgency over the past year and about 40 in the last week.
But he said one insurgent group — the Haqqani network — likely had no interest in reconciling with the Kabul government and had displayed an ability to bounce back despite losing large numbers of fighters and lower-ranking leaders on the battlefield.
“We’ve taken out a lot of the low and mid-level leadership, but they do have this ability to continue to regenerate fighters,” he said.