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f_0022429_18483 - THEWORLDTODAY.ORG JUNE 2011 PAGE 4...

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PAGE 4 Defence Policy Gareth Price | INDEPENDENT THINKING ON INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS THEWORLDTODAY.ORG JUNE 2011 After Osama The death of Osama bin Laden, and the manner in which it was carried out, will have major repercussions for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The coming weeks will reveal whether these will take the form of threats or opportunities.
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f OR AFGHANISTAN , BIN LADEN S death may enable the Taliban to formally disown al Qaeda. Given that western intervention in Afghanistan has been increasingly predicated on the need to prevent the country from being used as a base by international terrorists, such a move would expedite moves towards a ‘political settlement’ in Afghanistan. Involving the Taliban in a political settlement is clearly unappetising, and would have been almost certainly avoidable had different tactics been adopted in the early years after 9/11. But from here, a thought through political process appears more amenable than the alternative. A couple of years ago, the numbers of Taliban fighters were estimated to be around ten thousand. Now, despite recent western military successes, the number of fighters is thought to be in the region of 35,000. The longer a kinetic approach predominates the western strategy, the greater the Taliban’s appeal, not simply as a religious movement but as a movement against western occupation. At the same time, the realisation that western public opinion is shifting away from continued engagement in Afghanistan implies that the political process should begin sooner rather than later. The death of bin Laden is unlikely to increase western publics’ appetite for prolonged intervention. Whether a political settlement is feasible depends on the mindset within the Taliban as much as in the west. On that, messages are mixed. The west claims that drone attacks have been successful in targeting mid-level fighters and that the Taliban is on the back foot in provinces like Helmand. On the other hand, recruitment to the Taliban would seem to be strong. The recent jail-break from Kandahar returned another one hundred or so mid-level
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