Saudi prince: U.S. missed chance for Afghan withdrawal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States should have used the killing of Osama bin Laden to declare victory and quickly withdraw from Afghanistan and now faces an increasingly nationalist uprising in the country, a senior Saudi prince said on Wednesday.
Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former Saudi intelligence chief and ambassador to Britain and the United States, said the Obama administration had not been given enough credit for removing the al Qaeda leader, who was shot dead by U.S. special forces in Pakistan on May 1.
"The killing of bin Laden has not gotten the accolades that it deserves, not just throughout the world but even in this country," al-Faisal said at a conference on terrorism held by the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.
"Killing bin Laden would have been the perfect moment when your president can say we've done it ... this is the timetable that we've set for withdrawal of troops and goodbye and good luck. But it hasn't happened that way."
As Saudi intelligence chief, al-Faisal monitored bin Laden in the 1980s seeking to support his efforts to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan but said he had no contact with him in the years leading up to the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
U.S. President Barack Obama has pledged to press ahead with the decade-long conflict in Afghanistan under a timetable that would see 10,000 U.S. troops withdrawn by the end of the year and another 23,000 by the end of next summer.
The remaining 66,000 U.S. troops would be slowly withdrawn until a final transition to Afghan security control in 2014.
Some Republicans and Democrats in Congress have voiced hopes for a speedier withdrawal at a time when annual U.S. budget deficits have hit $1.4 trillion, and the $14.3 trillion U.S. national debt is leading to demands to sharply cut government spending.
Al-Faisal said Obama should have used bin Laden's death to announce an immediate military withdrawal.
"I don't mean withdrawing your embassy, your economic aid or your other support, but having troops on the ground in Afghanistan has never succeeded," he said.
"I'm afraid America will come to a time -- whether it is next year or the year after or the year after -- when it will inevitably have to withdraw, and this would have been the perfect moment to leave with a victory and not to go on and sort of continue in this endless (conflict)."
Al-Faisal, who over his career has had extensive contacts with a range of Afghan political factions, said it was clear the conflict no longer just involved the Islamist Taliban and its supporters in Pashtun tribal areas.
"The Afghan people will not accept foreign troops ... They are going to fight them," he said. "It's not just Pashtuns who are fighting back against Americans, now it is gaining a nationwide complexion."
Asked if U.S. efforts to move toward political talks with the Taliban led by Mullah Omar would bear fruit, al-Faisal said the time for that may have already passed.
"I think now frankly Mullah Omar is extraneous," al-Faisal said. "All the information that we see is that he is probably somewhere in Pakistan, not even in Afghanistan, and it is becoming more of a nationalist resistance movement to the presence of foreign troops. So Mullah Omar will be one of many ... who are conducting the resistance."
(Editing by Jackie Frank)