KABUL - The killing of Osama bin Laden may weaken al-Qaida's influence on the Afghan Taliban, the U.S. military commander in Afghanistan said Sunday.
Even so, Gen. David Petraeus warned that Afghanistan is still a potential refuge for international terror groups, and al-Qaida is just one of those.
He also warned that the April 29 U.S. raid that killed the al-Qaida leader in his Pakistani compound did not spell the end of the NATO battle in Afghanistan, which began just one month after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington with the aim of wiping out al-Qaida and bin Laden.
NATO officials have said that they don't intend to speed up their withdrawal just because al-Qaida's leader is gone, but the military feels it may bring the Taliban closer to negotiations with the Afghan government.
Interviewed aboard his helicopter by The Associated Press, Petraeus said the strong link between al-Qaida and the Taliban was personal, not organizational.
"The deal between the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida was between Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, not the organizations," Petraeus said as he visited troops in eastern Afghanistan.
Petraeus said bin Laden's death may make it easier for the Taliban to renounce al-Qaida, a condition for reconciliation talks set by NATO and the Afghan government.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Obama administration have said they will negotiate with any Taliban member who embraces the Afghan constitution, renounces violence and severs ties with al-Qaida. Informal contacts have been made in recent months with high-ranking Taliban figures, but no formal peace talks are under way.
The two groups don't seem to be inextricably aligned. While al-Qaida has backed worldwide terrorist attacks in the name of Muslim jihad, the Taliban has been mainly a nationalist movement aiming to regain control of Afghanistan.