Afghans React To Osama Bin Laden's Death
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
And now we go to the country where Osama bin Laden was at the time of the 9/11 attacks - Afghanistan.
Bin Laden traveled there in the '80s to fight in Afghanistan's war against the Soviet Occupation. He left the region after the Soviets were driven out, but he returned in the '90s when the Taliban brought him in. This time bin Laden's al-Qaida network ran training camps and planned terror attacks around the world.
We go now to NPR's Quil Lawrence, who's in Kabul. Quil, what has been the public reaction to the death of bin Laden?
QUIL LAWRENCE: Talking to people around the streets of Kabul, we've had mostly a positive mix of reactions. Recalling back in 2001, people here sometimes had strange mixed feelings. They were horrified about the 9/11 attacks, but in some ways happy that it would engender the overthrow of the Taliban.
After almost ten years here, the feelings about the American intervention have kind of soured. But people we've asked this morning are glad. Many in particular were happy that bin Laden was not caught on Afghan soil, but next door. And I can play you a short bit of audio from one of the - a high student I spoke with this morning in central Kabul.
Unidentified Man: We - all Afghans knew, understand (unintelligible) all the problems are not the Taliban's, they are from Pakistan, and now all the world knows that Osama was in Pakistan, so the leader was in Pakistan. Now everyone -all his followers are in Pakistan.
LAWRENCE: Afghan President Hamid Karzai echoed the same remarks this morning, saying that bin Laden had got what he deserved, but that it proves that the real action needs to be taken next door in Pakistan. And he called for the Taliban to stop fighting.
WERTHEIMER: So what is the partnership between bin Laden and the Taliban? Does it still exist?
LAWRENCE: Bin Laden himself was seen to have essentially retired from the operational level. In some way his value was really as a continuing thumb in the eye of American military might deployed here. The Taliban for the most part are seen now as an organic movement that has occasional cooperation with foreign fighters, some of them al-Qaida volunteers.
A Taliban spokesman we reached this morning, as well as former Taliban officials we've talked to, say that they are sad about the death of bin Laden, but their leader is still Mullah Omar, and their tactical leaders on the ground are really seen as a whole new generation of some say more radical, more brutal guerilla fighters and suicide bombers.
WERTHEIMER: So does this affect the war in Afghanistan?
LAWRENCE: We're gonna have to wait and see. Not necessarily. The Taliban have just declared the beginning of their spring offensive. International groups around Afghanistan from embassies all the way to some NATO troops have been on very limited movements waiting to see what happens.
We expect a continuation of assassinations and attacks on Afghan government targets, bomb attacks against NATO troops which have been killing on average at least a soldier every day so far this year.
U.S. special forces are still carrying out dozens of night raids every day, they say capturing and killing Taliban operatives, raids very similar to the one that was done this morning into Pakistan that killed bin Laden. And it's worth noting that the capacity of the CIA paramilitary teams and special operation forces have improved hugely along with the technology that enable them.
Chances are the men who carried out this mission into Pakistan have done perhaps hundreds of these stealth helicopter assaults just like that one in recent months.
WERTHEIMER: Do you think those same kinds of forces are going to turn their attention now to Mullah Omar, to other targets?
LAWRENCE: Mullah Omar is also sort of seen as a spiritual leader, but there's no doubt that they've been going great guns on both sides of the border, more with drone strikes in Pakistan.
But on a recent embed, I was hearing choppers throughout the night, which were special forces landing, picking up local contacts and going out, carrying out these raids in the middle of the night.
WERTHEIMER: We have been speaking with NPR's Quil Lawrence. He's in Kabul in Afghanistan. Quil, thank you very much.
LAWRENCE: Thank you, Linda.
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