Strategic Defence Intelligence explores the impact the shooting of al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden by US Special Forces may have on the war in Afghanistan.

In the early hours of 2 May 2011, US Special Forces raided a compound in Abottabad in north-west Pakistan, and shot dead al-Qaeda founder and leader Osama Bin Laden.

Bin Laden had featured on the FBI’s most wanted list since his involvement in the 1998 US embassy bombings, but it was al-Qaeda’s involvement in the attacks of 11 September 2001 that made both him and his organisation a key target of the US’ War on Terror.

Some commentators have speculated that President Obama will use the success as grounds for the early withdrawal of US and coalition troops from Afghanistan. However, others have warned that as Bin Laden’s influence over the Afghan Taliban was greatly diminished in recent years, the nature of the military action in the country has changed and needs to be seen to completion.

For the past few years, the Afghan Taliban has fought without the help of al-Qaeda foreign fighters. The Taliban sees the war as a means to rid the country of invading foreign forces, while the US and allied forces want to put a sufficiently strong government in place to ensure it does not once again become a base for formulating al-Qaeda attacks.

In a press conference, UK defence secretary Liam Fox told media representatives: “In Afghanistan we are fighting a counter-insurgency to try to create a more stable Afghanistan that works within the constitution of that country and with a democratic government, and the reason that we are trying to do that is to deny territory to groups such as al-Qaeda or their affiliates who would use an ungoverned space as the basis for developing, and potentially launching, operations against the free world in the way that they did prior to the attacks of 9/11.”

Former Taliban envoy to Pakistan Mullah Abdul Salam Zaef said that Osama bin Laden was not involved in military operations in Afghanistan or Pakistan, so his loss is not strategic to NATO’s aims. However, he told Al Jazeera television: “If it is real, there is no necessity for the Americans to continue operations in Afghanistan”.

The death of Bin Laden should help President Obama win re-election in the US in 2011 and will boost the chances of formulating a peace settlement. However, a full withdrawal leaving a secure Afghanistan will still depend on a number of factors. These include the formation of a government including Taliban members, the exclusion of foreign armed forces from the country on both sides, and the limitation of Taliban control of areas of Afghanistan, including the reduction of heroin production.