WASHINGTON -- White House Press Secretary Jay Carney reiterated on Thursday that the killing of Osama bin Laden would not alter the president’s policy with respect to the war in Afghanistan.
Speaking to reporters en route to the president’s Ground Zero visit, Carney said that strategy regarding the Afghan war “remains unchanged.”
“In many ways,” he elaborated, “while the mission against bin Laden was a singular event, it was part of a general intensification of our focus on the AfPak region, on the need to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda, which was the primary goal of the president’s policy in the AfPak region, and it was reflective of a general success that we've been having in taking out al Qaeda members and terrorists in the region.”
The public line is at odds with several reports that have surfaced in the immediate aftermath of bin Laden’s death in Pakistan. The Washington Post’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran, one of the most respected reporters on the beat, wrote on Tuesday evening that the Obama administration was “seeking to use the killing of Osama bin Laden to accelerate a negotiated settlement with the Taliban and hasten the end of the Afghanistan war.”
Several anti-war lawmakers, meanwhile, have heightened their calls for a more precipitous withdrawal of troops -- the process of which is set to begin in July 2011. At least one aide to an on-the-fence congressmember said that bin Laden’s death would encourage his boss to at least re-think his position. Another, Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), has acknowledged that he is readjusting his position.
The death of bin Laden would, indeed, seem like an opportune break point at which the Obama administration could make major readjustments in its AfPak strategy without eliciting domestic criticism. A drawdown of forces would be a logical option. So too would be readjusting budget priorities to reflect the growth of al Qaeda’s presence in Pakistan.
Inside the White House, however, there is a sense that bin Laden’s death is not an end point but an affirmation.
“I think its way too hasty to say the death of UBL means we’ll draw down faster,” one administration official told the Huffington Post, via email. “What it says is that or broader regional approach to fight al Qaeda is working.”