WASHINGTON — Osama bin Laden's death hasn't changed the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan, and it must continue, the U.S. commander in charge of the country's east said Tuesday.
"One man does not make the war on terror," Maj. Gen. John Campbell told reporters via videoconference from Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan.
Instead, Campbell said, the demise of al-Qaida's leader in a U.S. raid in Pakistan could help pave the way for insurgent groups, including the Taliban, to reconcile with U.S.-led coalition forces and the Afghan government. But he couldn't offer specifics on when a reconciliation process would begin, saying only that bin Laden's demise would scare them.
"I think the insurgents are going to see this and say, 'Hey, why am I doing this?' " Campbell said.
Campbell's comments appeared to be the latest effort by U.S. officials to strike a delicate balance: painting bin Laden's death as a triumph against terrorism but not a game-changer in the war in Afghanistan. Pentagon officials are trying to defuse calls by some lawmakers to dramatically reduce the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan, casting bin Laden's death as a small part of the broader effort to defeat al-Qaida, which could find a new leader.
Pentagon officials remain concerned that some insurgent elements — particularly those loyal to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who purportedly had close ties to bin Laden — will aggressively come after U.S. troops.
Some militant groups, such as the Haqqani network, would not be driven to reconciliation, Campbell said. He called the Haqqani network, not al-Qaida, the "most lethal threat" to eastern Afghanistan, which includes the capital, Kabul.
A day before the raid that killed bin Laden, the Taliban announced the start of a spring offensive, and on Tuesday, about 200 Taliban fighters stormed a police outpost in mountainous part of eastern Afghanistan, triggering a gunfight that left two insurgents dead, according to news reports.
In Washington, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that it's "unsustainable" to continue spending $10 billion a month on an open-ended war effort. But Kerry said that a sudden withdrawal of U.S. forces would be a mistake and that military leaders "should be working toward the smallest footprint necessary."