State News

Gates: Bin Laden death could be game-changer

Posted May 6, 2011 6:04 a.m. EDT
Updated May 6, 2011 3:16 p.m. EDT

— The killing of Osama bin Laden could be a game-changer for the U.S. military in Afghanistan by splitting the native Taliban from the al-Qaida terror network, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday during a stop at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

"Frankly, I think it's too early to make a judgment in terms of the impact inside Afghanistan, but I think in six months or so, we'll know if it's made a difference," Gates said of bin Laden's death.

"We'll have to see what that relationship looks like," Gates said of the Taliban and al-Qaida in a post-bin Laden world. "Bin Laden and (Taliban leader) Mullah Omar had a very close personal relationship. There are others in the Taliban that felt betrayed by al-Qaida – that it was because of al-Qaida's attack on the United States that the Taliban got thrown out of Afghanistan."

Bin Laden was killed Sunday in a raid by U.S. forces on a compound where he was living in Pakistan. The raid has further complicated an already complex relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan.

Gates said Pakistan is the main supply route for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, and Pakistan's military has helped the fight by moving troops from the border with traditional enemy India to fight along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.

He added, however, that there's no question Pakistan is positioning itself with potential leaders of Afghanistan when the U.S. leaves.

Gates made his comments while speaking to about 300 airmen who recently returned from a deployment and others leaving soon for a new overseas mission.

He presented a Bronze Star Medal to Senior Master Sgt. Arnel B. Abad, who served in Afghanistan from last September to March. As an operations flight supervisor, Abad led 52 personnel in supporting combat operations at 20 bases and outposts across 124,500 square miles.

"The mission is to do the bad guys – to get them out of the way – and we've done that," Abad said. "(For Gates to come) here to recognize these guys, this is great, and hopefully let them know the secretary of defense cares for them and what they do."

Seymour Johnson is home to the largest concentration of F-15E fighter jets in the world. The planes are used to attack planes in the air or targets on the ground in all weather.

The 67-year-old Gates is on his way out as defense secretary. The former CIA director under President George H.W. Bush became President George W. Bush's defense secretary in December 2006. He stayed at the Pentagon under President Barack Obama and is due to leave the position June 30.