WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama told "60 Minutes" Correspondent Steve Kroft on Thursday the death of Osama bin Laden won't change U.S. plans for Afghanistan.
Kroft observed that, "There are people in Congress -- influential people now, on both sides of the aisle -- who are saying that this is an opportunity for us to cut our commitment in Afghanistan, and begin hastening our withdrawals."
Mr. Obama replied, "Well, keep in mind I've already made a commitment that starting in July of this year, we are drawing down troops. And we are transitioning; we're training Afghan forces so that they can start securing their own country. And so, 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. But we don't need to have a perpetual footprint of the size that we have now."
CBS News National Security Analyst Juan Zarate told "Early Show" co-anchor Erica Hill Friday bin Laden's demise doesn't change much on the ground in that country in terms of U.S. strategy.
He explained, "The killing of bin Laden is a strategic moment, no doubt. But I don't think it changes the dynamics on the ground in Afghanistan. What it does do, though, I think it gives the president more leeway to be able to draw down the troops that he's committed to doing this summer, and to do so from a position of strength, as opposed to appearing to be withdrawing as retreat."
Zarate added, "I don't think it changes the dynamics on the ground, the battle against the Taliban. The ability to train Afghan forces. But it certainly does put the president and the United States in a different light, and in a different position of strength here."
Hill said, "Does that mean, though, just reading between the lines, that the president could actually pull out more troops, perhaps, than were initially planned?"
"I think that could be the case," Zarate said. "You could have the president feeling a bit more secure about not only doing that politically, but also feeling better about our ability and momentum to actually go after al Qaeda. Keep in mind that the U.S. is not stopping with the killing of bin Laden. We're going after other leaders. No doubt you're going to see other strikes and activities in the coming days. So the president, I think, is feeling much better about the momentum we have against al Qaeda."
Hill asked if the focus still on al Qaeda and the Taliban, and if so, she said, "How do you now focus (U.S.) resources?"
Zarate answered, "What happens now is this lays bare the tension that we've had in our strategy. Because, the president has described our purpose in Afghanistan as disrupting and dismantling al Qaeda, while the reality on the ground is that we're actually fighting a Taliban insurgency and the military has talked about our long-term commitment to ensuring that the Taliban doesn't control any part of the territory. Those are two different goals that require different footprints and different military commitments. I think we're going to start seeing that start (of that) debate emerge in light of the killing of bin Laden."
As for the training of Afghan forces, Zarate says the effort is "a mixed bag."
He said, "In general the training of the military has gone relatively well over time. Although you had instances recently of soldiers and others attacking NATO trainers, which has been incredibly unfortunate. The bigger problem, I think, has been the training of police and local security forces to be able to secure the areas outside of Kabul and to provide the governance needed for the securing of the country. That's been the most problematic. And I think will be a problem up until the 2014 deadline when NATO is supposed to hand over control of security to the Afghans."
Following the death of bin Laden, Hill remarked many Americans have increased concern for the service members in Afghanistan.
Zarate says he hasn't been privy to any evidence that there's an increased threat there.
"We should assume that some passions will be inflamed," he said. "Some attacks may be accelerated. But, in general, I don't think we've seen anything yet to suggest that there's a threat coming out of the killing of bin Laden." (CBS)