KABUL // While many Afghans are fed up with the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden in their country, they also fear his death may prompt a withdrawal of foreign troops that will leave Afghanistan in chaos.
Reaction on the streets of Kabul to the news of bin Laden's death was mixed yesterday. Some Afghans expressed support for the US operation that killed bin Laden in Pakistan, but others referred to the terrorist leader as a martyr of the global jihad.
While some analysts speculated that American support for the war, already waning, would all but end with the al Qa'eda chief's death, US officials in Kabul moved to quell worries of an abrupt US withdrawal.
"We came here for bin Laden but we're staying for the Afghans," said a US military analyst, who wished to remain anonymous. "If we leave them hanging like we have in the past, it's going to be a bloodbath."
In a statement to the press, the US ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, said: "This victory will not mark the end of our effort against terrorism. America's strong support for the people of Afghanistan will continue as before."
It was widely believed by Western military and political analysts that bin Laden was holed up along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Foreign troops led by the US continue to fight a Taliban insurgency there after invading Afghanistan in a bid to capture bin Laden after the September 11 attacks.
The Afghan Taliban, which hosted bin Laden in Afghanistan during the period he is believed to have planned the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001, were silent on the bin Laden death. But the Pakistani Taliban, according to Reuters, threatened continued attacks against both the Pakistan and US governments.
Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, praised US forces for killing bin Laden, but also lashed out at the Taliban, Pakistan, and his government's Western backers at a press conference yesterday in Kabul.
"This is a very important day. Maybe you have already heard on the television or on the radio that American forces have killed Osama bin Laden, delivering him his due punishment," Mr Karzai told an assembly of district government officials, prompting the hall to erupt in applause.
"But year after year, day after day, we have said the fighting against terrorism is not in the villages of Afghanistan, not among the poor people of Afghanistan," Mr Karzai said. "The fight against terrorism is in safe havens. It proves that Afghanistan was right."
He also called for the Taliban to lay down their arms, saying the insurgents "should learn a lesson", from the deadly raid on bin Laden's compound.
Analysts said bin Laden's death might make it easier for the Taliban - which has long had its fate tied to that of the al Qa'eda leader - to reconcile with the Afghan government.
The Taliban remains a largely home-grown insurgency aimed at toppling the US-backed government in Afghanistan. But al Qa'eda, born in the mujahideen camps of Afghanistan in the 1980s, is a terrorist network that has launched attacks on Western interests with the goal of creating a global theocratic state.
Natives of Afghanistan's Panjsher Valley, a bastion of resistance to the Taliban and where the beloved Afghan fighter, Ahmad Shah Massoud, is widely believed to have been assassinated by al Qa'eda operatives just two days before the September 11 attacks were elated by the news of bin Laden's death.
"We took revenge for the death of Massoud, and now we can all relax," said Shah Massoud, a relative of the fallen commander and Panjsher native said in Kabul.
A crowd that had gathered around Mr Massoud cheered in agreement. Local children handed out sweets in celebration.
"You are crazy to think we would not be happy, this is wonderful news. Long live America," Mr Massoud said.
In the dusty, middle-class neighbourhood of Karte Parwan, where one of bin Laden's al Qa'eda safe-houses once dominated the landscape, residents reflected on their memories of the Saudi native's brief, but notorious, stay here.
Shopkeepers and residents remember the militant and his close-knit band of Arab fighters as generous but solitary. Residents say al Qa'eda cell members forbade them from coming too close to the compound, but would donate fresh meat to the poor on Muslim holidays. Some residents recalled the men striding through the bazaar.
"I would slaughter animals for them in their garden, but they wouldn't allow me in the house," said Faqir Qandi Qasab, a local butcher who has lived in Karte Parwan for over 30 years. Mr Qasab could even find humour in the Arab strangers, joking, "They were good people, but they still owe me 60,000 Afghanis (Dh5,125) for the sheep. Who is going to pay the bill now?"
Afghan and Nato forces were on high alert yesterday after the announcement of bin Laden's death, warning of potential reprisal attacks due to an earlier Taliban statement declaring the start of its annual spring offensive on Sunday.
But there was a very different reaction at a local mosque nestled next to Nato's headquarters in Kabul, where worshippers expressed outrage at bin Laden's killing and were visibly upset by the news.
"According to Islam, if a Muslim is killed, anywhere in the world, we should share his pain," a brother of the mosque's imam, Walid, 30, said. "We should not celebrate this death; it is sad news for Muslims everywhere."
One resident of Kabul and self-proclaimed supporter of the US invasion of Afghanistan had some timely advice for the occupying US forces.
"It's nice, this news. I congratulate all Americans on killing this man," Hajji Marouf, 55, said of bin Laden. "But now the Americans can take their army and go home."