WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden could have a significant impact on the Afghan insurgency, delivering both a psychological and intelligence blow to Taliban leaders and foot soldiers alike, a top U.S. Marine Corps general said on Thursday.
Major General Richard Mills, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, said Navy SEALs who carried out the raid carted away information from bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that is likely to provide an intelligence bonanza for U.S. forces fighting the Taliban insurgency.
"I think it will identify people who are providing ... material support to the insurgency in Afghanistan," said Mills, who in late March completed a tour of duty as regional commander in southwestern Afghanistan, a poppy-growing region that saw tough fighting last year.
"I think it will provide targets to be worked and I think it will have a tremendous impact a little bit later in the year as the loss of that leadership begins to take place and they lose those capabilities," he told defense reporters.
Mills predicted the psychological blow caused by the raid that killed bin Laden would be significant.
"If I were (Taliban leader) Mullah (Mohammad) Omar, I would certainly be worried," he said. "It shows that the Americans are focused ... Once we've targeted you, we're going to maintain our focus on you until the mission's accomplished."
"On the battlefield at the individual soldier level, it's again a great psychological victory for us," Mills added. "I think it will have tremendous impact ... to show that we are able to reach out and get what might have been perceived as a completely safe target, someone who was untouchable by the Western forces."
Al Qaeda's impact on the Afghan insurgency has mainly been indirect -- providing moral and financial support and perhaps an occasional fighter, he said.
Mills said it was unclear what impact the raid might have on U.S.-Pakistani cooperation at the tactical level along the border, which he described as cooperative and supportive.
"It remains to be seen whether or not this raid will change that relationship, but ... on the few times that I dealt with the Pakistani military at the general officer level, I found them cooperative, I found them professional, I found them supportive of what we're trying to do," he said.
Editing by Mary Milliken and Mohammad Zargham