KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan leaders hailed the killing of Osama bin Laden on Monday, but the only immediate impact on the Afghan war will likely be a spike in violence.
Bin Laden, described by some Afghans as al Qaeda's "number one martyr", was killed in Pakistan by U.S. forces who had been hunting him for more than a decade.
Hours later Afghan President Hamid Karzai called on the militant Islamist Taliban, who sheltered bin Laden before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, to stop fighting in Afghanistan, but his calls are likely to go unheeded.
The reaction to bin Laden's killing was muted across Afghanistan -- where fighting has dragged on since the toppling of the Taliban in late 2001 -- in contrast to the joyous scenes in the streets of Washington and other U.S. cities.
His killing was seen as highly symbolic, with significant U.S. political implications, but unlikely to have any immediate effect on U.S. policy in Afghanistan or the war against Islamist militants.
"It's a symbolic blow, but practically the impact will be limited. I don't think the Taliban rely on al Qaeda for support," said Martine van Bijlert, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network.
"I think the big question is how it will play out in the United States ... close attention will be paid to how it plays out in public opinion."
The U.S. ambassador to Kabul echoed earlier comments by U.S. President Barack Obama that bin Laden's killing did not mean the end of militant violence and reiterated that U.S. support for Afghanistan would not change.
"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," U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry said in a statement.
NATO-led forces have pledged to begin a gradual drawdown of combat troops from July as part of a plan to hand total security responsibility to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.
Analysts doubted there would be any immediate change to that plan, although they said the killing of bin Laden would make it easier to "sell" the plan politically in the United States.
"NUMBER ONE MARTYR"
While the Afghan Taliban remained silent on bin Laden's killing, the Pakistani Taliban threatened attacks on leaders there as well as the Pakistan army and the United States.
Residents in Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban in southern Afghanistan, also doubted the killing would have any significant impact on quelling the insurgency. Al Qaeda's influence has diminished even as violence grew over the past 18 months.
"Now he is the number one martyr for al Qaeda because he is stronger dead than alive," one man, who asked not to be identified, said.
"He always predicted that he would be killed by Americans. Now he will become a fire that Muslims will follow for generations," the heavily bearded man said.
Karzai said the killing of bin Laden showed the war against terrorism might be elsewhere but "was not in Afghan villages", and that it sent a message to the Taliban.
"I call on the Taliban to learn a lesson from the incident in Abbottabad and refrain from fighting and the destruction of their own country," Karzai told a news conference in Kabul, adding he hoped there would be peace and prosperity in Afghanistan "in a year or two".
Even before bin Laden was killed, senior NATO commanders in Afghanistan had said they were expecting a spike in violence this week and the Taliban announced at the weekend it had launched its new spring "fighting season".
Some Western diplomats in Afghanistan believed the killing of bin Laden would at least help plans to support peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.
"It could be a game-changer in boosting the morale and confidence of the U.S. and international community," said Vygaudas Usackas, the European Union ambassador in Kabul.
He said it would help prove that the efforts and sacrifices of the past 10 years "were not in vain".
It is believed bin Laden fled to Pakistan after he eluded U.S. troops and Afghan militia in a major assault in the mountainous Tora Bora region of eastern Afghanistan in late 2001, when the Taliban were ousted by U.S.-backed Afghan forces.
Violence hit its worst levels across Afghanistan last year, with record civilian and military casualties, with the protracted fighting sapping the energy of Washington's NATO allies who face an increasingly sceptical public.
(Additional reporting by Jonathon Burch, Hamid Shalizi and Rob Taylor; Editing by Alex Richardson)
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