By John T. Bennett - 05/05/11 03:54 PM EDT
The targeted killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan should "sow seeds of discontent" in al Qaeda and the Taliban, Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Richard Mills said Thursday.
Mills, who was the top Marine in Afghanistan and I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) until last month, said the death of bin Laden “has to have a psychological impact” on the Taliban and al Qaeda.
But just as important to the ongoing fight in Afghanistan will be the intelligence gained during the Pakistan raid, Mills said.
U.S. officials and lawmakers say the American forces removed a good deal of hard drives, telephone numbers, written materials and other items from bin Laden’s compound.
That data will provide U.S. officials with the names of people providing support to al Qaeda elements and “targets to be worked,” Mills said.
The Marine general described gains made against the Taliban during his recent time in southwest Afghanistan.
Taliban elements have been driven out of most key towns and provinces, he said. Local Afghan leaders no longer have to be more handy “with a pistol than a pencil,” and almost all elections are carried out without Taliban interference. More and more, intelligence tells U.S. commanders that “the people are no longer on [the Taliban’s] side,” Mills said.
When asked by The Hill whether those factors amount to ample leverage to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table for a final settlement with the U.S., Mills said he hopes a pact he helped broker in Sangin, Afghanistan, “may, hopefully, be the wave of the future.”
“To date, that agreement has held” even though there remains some low-level fighting there, Mills said. It has held, he added, because of the many infrastructure, education and other development projects the U.S. has completed in Sangin.
“We are about to” take Taliban leaders to see the outcomes of this work and say, “ ‘See, this is what your people get,’ ” Mills said.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that senior Obama administration officials are poised to use bin Laden’s death, a major victory for the White House, as leverage toward a possible settlement with the Taliban.
In the wake of the terrorist mastermind’s death, prominent U.S. lawmakers have said it is time to think seriously about an Afghan exit strategy.