|US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
© AFP Paul J. Richards
WASHINGTON (AFP) – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday warned the Taliban it cannot defeat the United States in Afghanistan, using Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden’s killing in Pakistan to press for an end to their insurgency.
The chief US diplomat also said cooperation with Pakistan led to bin Laden’s death despite doubts she and other US officials have voiced about Islamabad’s willingness to work with Washington to root out Al-Qaeda.
In neighboring Afghanistan, “we will continue taking the fight to Al-Qaeda and their Taliban allies, while working to support the Afghan people as they build a stronger government,” Clinton told reporters.
“Our message to the Taliban remains the same, but today, it may have even greater resonance,” Clinton said after US special forces killed bin Laden in a helicopter raid on his heavily fortified villa in Abbottabad in Pakistan.
“You cannot wait us out. You cannot defeat us. But you can make the choice to abandon Al-Qaeda and participate in a peaceful political process,” Clinton said.
Following massive troop reinforcements in the past year, the United States is hoping to begin in July a three-year withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan while trying to draw Taliban leaders into negotiations.
Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda masterminded the attacks of September 11, 2001 from its bases in Afghanistan, which was ruled by the extremist Islamist Taliban movement from 1996 to 2001.
As Al-Qaeda’s leadership is now believed to be based in the lawless tribal areas of Pakistan, the Taliban is waging a deadly insurgency against the US-backed government of President Hamid Karzai.
Karzai urged the Taliban Monday to lay down their weapons and stop fighting his government, telling them to take heed from bin Laden who “paid for his deeds”.
Karzai insisted bin Laden’s death in Pakistan “proved” the war on terror was not rooted in his troubled country but mounted from militant bases in Pakistan.
In a press conference later with Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia, which contributes troops to Afghanistan, Clinton said “cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound in which he was hiding.”
Doubts about Pakistan’s commitment to fighting Al-Qaeda were revived after US forces shot and killed Bin Laden in a heavily-fortified villa in the heart of Abbottabad, a garrison city two hours by road north of Islamabad.
A senior US intelligence official said: “We have no indications that the Pakistanis were aware that Osama bin Laden was at the compound in Abbottabad.”
But US counter-terrorism chief John Brennan refused to rule out official Pakistani backing for bin Laden and said Islamabad was only told of the raid that killed the Al-Qaeda leader after US forces had left Pakistani airspace.
“We are looking right now at how he was able to hold out there for so long and whether or not there was any type of support system within Pakistan that allowed him to stay there,” Brennan told journalists at the White House.
Clinton stirred outrage during a visit to Pakistan in October 2009 when she took issue with Islamabad’s position that the Al-Qaeda leadership is not in Pakistan.
“Al-Qaeda has had safe haven in Pakistan since 2002,” Clinton told senior Pakistani newspaper editors in the country’s cultural capital, Lahore.
“I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are and couldn’t get them if they really wanted to,” she added.
However, Clinton put the emphasis here Monday on the common cause made by both the United States and Pakistan, which she said has declared war on both countries.
Analysts say elements of the Pakistani military and intelligence services want to keep links with both Al-Qaeda and the Taliban as they see them as a buffer for arch-enemy India’s influence in Afghanistan once US forces pull out.
Rudd, meanwhile, insisted that bin Laden’s death would not speed up the removal of Australian forces from Australia. “We will stay the course in Afghanistan until mission is complete,” Rudd said.
© AFP — Published at Activist Post with license