In his 60 Minutes interview President Obama seemed to signal that the successful mission that killed Osama bin Laden could speed up the U.S. withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
The White House has not yet conducted a major review of operations after the close of Operation Neptune Spear, but the president voiced optimism that the death of bin Laden will encourage extremist elements in Afghanistan to join the reconciliation process, and seemed to voice a new confidence that the mission proved that smaller more highly-trained teams like the SEALs, Green Berets, and Nightstalker helicopter pilots could be effective as the US begins to withdraw combat troops this Summer.
“What has happened on Sunday, I think, reconfirms that we can focus on Al Qaeda, focus on the threats to our homeland, train Afghans in a way that allows them to stabilize their country,” the president said, “but we don’t need to have a perpetual footprint of the size that we have now.”
As for extremist elements in Afghanistan, the president said “it sends a signal to those who might have been affiliated with terrorist organizations, that might have had a favorable view towards Al Qaeda, that they’re going to be on the losing side of this proposition. And it may make some of those local power brokers, those local Taliban leaders have second thoughts and say, ‘Maybe it makes more sense for us to figure out how to participate in a political process as opposed to engaging in a war with folks who I think we’ve shown don’t give up.’”
The president credited his strategy of refocusing attention and assets on Afghanistan and Pakistan as having set the stage for last Sunday’s raid.
“We did increase our troops levels in Afghanistan so that we could blunt the momentum of the Taliban and create platforms that would allow us to go after Al Qaeda directly,” the president said. “We’ve denigrated Al Qaeda significantly even before we got Bin Laden and– I think it’s important for everybody to understand that– the work that’s been done in Afghanistan helped to prepare us for being able to take Bin Laden out.”
The president noted that “our job’s not yet finished” in Afghanistan, with the US needing to ensure that “we leave an Afghanistan that can secure itself, that does not, again, become a safe haven for terrorist activity. But I think that that can be accomplished on the timeline that I’ve already set out.”
-Jake Tapper (@jaketapper)