AFGHANISTAN: The Bin Laden Effect
What Bin Laden’s Death Could Mean
Will Osama Bin Laden’s death have any effect on the fight in Afghanistan?
The former U.S. Marine Corps commander in Afghanistan’s volatile Southwest provinces says yes, but it will be largely symbolic.
“I think psychologically, it’s going to be a blow to the insurgency for several reasons,” Maj. Gen. Richards P. Mills told a bloggers’ roundtable today (Tuesday). Mills, commander of NATO’s Regional Command Southwest until last month, says Bin Laden had a “mythical standing within the terrorist organizations” and his demise at the hands of U.S. special operations forces May 1 could undermine morale.
Mills, who also commanded the I (first) Marine Expeditionary Force (pronounced Eye-Mef), in Afghanistan’s Helmand and Nimruz provinces, says the slaying of the world’s most wanted terrorist also sends a message to insurgent leaders. “It proves the point that the Americans don’t walk away” from a difficult mission, he said. “No matter how tough, no matter how long it takes, we get it done,” Mills said, adding that it disproves “the insurgent propaganda that the Americans are going to leave very quickly and forget about Afghanistan and walk away from you.”
Al Qaeda was in the background of the conflict in Helmand, Mills said, so Bin Laden’s death probably won’t have much effect on the ground there, but for the Taliban, it “will probably frighten the senior leadership more[knowing] that they are being hunted.”
Mills took over leadership of NATO operations in Helmand and Nimruz provinces from a British general in April 2010 just after the big offensive in Marja. There was additional heavy fighting in places like Sangin on his watch. His command of 30,000 troops included 20,000 U.S. Marines as well as troops from Britain, Georgia, Denmark, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Tonga and Estonia. The coalition forces also partnered with the Afghan National Army’s 215th corps.
Mills was the first Marine Corps officer to head a NATO regional command in combat.
The 4GWAR blog asked him just who the enemy was in Helmand, foreign fighters or home grown insurgents?
Mills said his troops had battled a combination of local insurgents and “a corps of out-of-area fighters” from “Pakistan most notably.” He said the outsiders provided the locals with structure, training and leadership on the ground but the majority of fighters, “60 or 70 percent,” were locals. He noted that widespread unemployment was a driving force behind recruiting for the insurgency in largely poor and rural Helmand Province.
One issue coalition forces were able to exploit he said, was the fact that insurgent leaders who remained safe in Pakistan strongholds were, in effect, phoning it in from Quetta. Some hadn’t been back to Afghanistan for years. “I think that’s a real weakness there,” Mills said, “as the war turned against them, I think the local Taliban became very resentful that the leadership could run to safety, and they had to stay and fight.”