Warning that Af-Pak border region has become the "modern epicentre of jihad", the US on Tuesday ruled out any pullout from Afghanistan, saying a Taliban takeover of the country could hand al-Qaeda a "hugely empowering message."
A victory for Taliban in Afghanistan would allow al-Qaeda to resume a foothold and would empower the terrorist network, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said in a joint interview with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to CNN.
He said a reassurance of no pull back from Afghanistan had been given to Pakistan despite a strategic review underway in White House.
"I had lunch with Pakistani Ambassador and I made clear to him we are not leaving Afghanistan." Gates said the review underway at White House was about "next step forward" in the Afghan war.
"While there may be some short term uncertainty among our allies, in terms of the new steps, there should be no uncertainty in terms of our determination to remain in Afghanistan."
Calling the tribal belt between Afghanistan-Pakistan border as the "modern epicentre" of jihad, Gates said any withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, before the mission to defeat al-Qaeda and the Taliban is achieved, would bolster the Islamic radicals in other parts of the globe.
The defence secretary said there was no doubt that if Taliban overrun "large areas of Afghanistan, it would mean added space for al-Qaeda to grow stronger.
Gates said any symbolism of a US-NATO defeat would hand al-Qaeda hugely empowering message.
Gates remarks come as the Obama administration as reviewing its new Af-Pak policy and demands by the Generals for inducting more forces into Afghanistan. An equally strong lobby in Washington is opposing the move to send more troops.
The defence secretary said the terrorists groups are aiming to deal the same fate to the US forces like that of the Russians, referring to the Soviet defeat in the 1980s at the hands of Islamist fighters.
"It's a hugely empowering message... should they be successful," Gates said of the desire of the Taliban to take back Afghanistan. The al-Qaeda leaders believe "they now have the ability to defeat a second superpower," Gates said.
Meanwhile, leading American daily The Washington Post on Tuesday warned that a Taliban victory would be catastrophic for the US and its allies and insisted the Obama Administration should focus on routing out the Taliban and al-Qaeda from the Af-Pak region; even if it requires years of patience.
"Defeating the Taliban and fostering an Afghan government and army that can stabilise the country are daunting tasks that will require years of patience," it said in a lead editorial.
"Whether or not al-Qaeda regains its pre-9/11 haven, a Taliban victory would be a catastrophe for the United States and its allies," The Post said.
The paper said the Taliban was fragmented, with some bits focused on Afghanistan and others on Pakistan - though all are headquartered in Pakistan. "But there is considerable evidence that the groups coordinate their actions." PTI