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Gates Faces Soldiers' Questions on Bin Laden's Death

Sean Maroney | FOB Sharana, Paktika Province, Afghanistan June 06, 2011

While visiting troops in eastern Afghanistan, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates faced more of their questions about how the death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden would affect them.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates continued his farewell tour of Afghanistan before he steps down as defense secretary at the end of this month.

After thanking the troops for their sacrifices, Gates took time to answer questions from the service men and women at U.S. military bases in eastern Afghanistan.

At almost all the stops, including those a day earlier in the south, he faced questions about what, if any, effect the death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden would have on the Afghan war.

Gates said he believed they would know by the end of the year, adding one of the biggest benefits he foresaw would be a possible weakening between the Taliban and al-Qaida.

“I think, you know, it is a month since bin Laden was killed, so I think it is really just too early to know what the impact will be at this point," Gates said. "I think the one potential benefit is that bin Laden and Mullah Omar were very close personally. If I were Taliban, I would often be asking, 'What did al-Qaida ever do for me, except get me kicked out of Afghanistan?'”

At Forward Operating Base Sharana in Paktika Province, U.S. Army Colonel Sean Jenkins told reporters many Afghan insurgents are coming back from Pakistan, but the level of fighting has not risen.

“We have not seen the rise that we thought we would see by this time, given early June, that we expected with the announcement of the spring offensive by the enemy," Jenkins said. "They are still very capable, and we saw that here shortly, days ago, when we lost one of our own.”

Defense officials point to eastern Afghanistan as a likely location for the insurgents to rally. Colonel Jenkins says the Pakistani military is an important ally in combating this. But since U.S. special forces killed bin Laden in Pakistan in May, public frictions have existed between the countries' civilian governments.

Jenkins maintains the military relationship still is going strong and that he meets with his Pakistani counterparts once a month to discuss the effort. But he admits the Pakistani side postponed their most recent meeting, scheduled to take place after bin Laden's death.

After completing his visit to Afghanistan, Gates heads to the NATO security conference in Brussels. The conference is expected to focus, in part, on the situation in Afghanistan as well as the coalition's strategy in Libya.

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