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After bin Laden: Cautionary hopes on Afghanistan war

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(For an in-depth Monitor report on the prospect for talks, click here.)

The fallout from the killing of bin Laden could, too, help move up plans for withdrawal of US troops in Afghanistan. An initial drawdown is scheduled to start in July, with the bulk of allied forces not expected to leave until the end of 2014.

But the pullout may quicken if Al Qaeda crumbles without its leader. After all, the goal in Afghanistan is to prevent it from ever again becoming a safe haven and springboard for international jihad by Al Qaeda.

Meanwhile, opinion may shift to favor those in the administration and Congress who argue that the way to fight this war is through special operations – like the one on bin Laden’s compound – rather than 100,000 US troops on the ground. Budget constraints, public opinion against the war, and election pressures could reinforce this view.

But the US can’t count on the imminent demise of Al Qaeda or a Taliban now ready to talk. The facts on the ground today are a spring offensive by the Taliban after a year in which incidents involving insurgent Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), suicide bombers, and small-fire, rocket, and mortar assaults more than doubled since 2008. Eastern provinces and those near Kabul are infested with insurgents.

Al Qaeda has suffered heavy losses over time, but it still maintains an alliance with the Taliban and other terrorist groups, based largely in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. And Al Qaeda is still plotting large-scale international attacks and supporting its regional affiliates.

At the same time, the United States and its NATO allies have made progress in Afghanistan – despite incredible corruption and unreliable government partners in Kabul and Islamabad.

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