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Gates: Taliban Gains Would "Empower" al Qaeda

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I've been watching Defense Secretary Robert Gates talking at that CNN forum with Hillary Clinton today, and this bit jumped out:

GATES: I think the thing to remember about Afghanistan is that that country, and particularly the Afghan-Pakistan border, is the modern epicenter of jihad. It is where the Mujahedeen defeated the other superpower. And their view is, in my opinion, that they now have the opportunity to defeat a second superpower, which, more than anything, would empower their message and the opportunity to recruit, to fundraise and to plan operations.

So I think you have to see this area in a historical context in terms of what happened in the 1980s and the meaning of the victory over the Soviet Union in order to understand the importance of this symbiotic relationship between al Qaeda and the Taliban and -- and the other extremists, frankly.

AMANPOUR: So you think they would come back if Afghanistan fell?

GATES: I don't know whether al Qaeda would sort of move their headquarters from the Fatah back into Afghanistan, but there's no question in my mind that if the Taliban took large – took control of significant portions of Afghanistan, that that would be added space for al Qaeda to strengthen itself and more recruitment and more fundraising.

But what's more important than that, in my view, is the message that it sends that empowers al Qaeda. Al Qaeda, in many respects, is an ideology. And the notion that they have come back from this defeat -- come back from 2002, to challenge not only the United States, but NATO -- 42 nations and so on -- is a hugely empowering message, should they be successful.

This hardly sounds like a man prepared to risk yielding large swaths of terrain to the Taliban. And I'm not sure how you can avoid doing that with the limited troop presence of a counterterrorism strategy.

This, by the way, is another echo of what you might call the "intoxication" rationale.

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