SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. — The killing of Osama bin Laden could be a game-changer for the U.S. military in Afghanistan by splitting the native Taliban from the al Qaeda terror network, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday during a stop at a North Carolina Air Force base.
"Frankly I think it's too early to make a judgment in terms of the impact inside Afghanistan, but I think in six months or so, we'll know if it's made a difference," Gates said of bin Laden's death.
"We'll have to see what that relationship looks like," Gates said of the Taliban and al Qaeda in a post-bin Laden world. "Bin Laden and (Taliban leader) Mullah Omar had a very close personal relationship. There are others in the Taliban that felt betrayed by al Qaeda — that it was because of al-Qaeda's attack on the United States that the Taliban got thrown out of Afghanistan."
Bin Laden was killed Sunday in a raid by U.S. forces on a compound where he was living in Pakistan. The raid has further complicated an already complex relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan.
Gates said Pakistan is the main supply route for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, and Pakistan's military has helped the fight by moving troops from the border with traditional enemy India to fight along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. Gates added, however, that there's no question Pakistan is positioning itself with potential leaders of Afghanistan when the U.S. leaves.
The 67-year-old Gates, who will retire June 30, took questions for about 35 minutes Friday from about 300 airmen at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.