According to US officials, “al Qaeda’s role in Afghanistan has faded after eight years of war.”
Gone is the once-formidable network of camps and safe houses where Osama bin Laden and his mostly Arab operatives trained thousands of young Muslims to wage a global jihad. The group is left with fewer than 100 core fighters, according to the Obama administration, likely operating small-scale bomb-making and tactics classes conducted by trainers who travel to and from Pakistan.
Assessing the real strength and threat posed by al Qaeda is at the heart of an evolving policy debate in Washington about whether to escalate the U.S. military presence in this country. The war was launched soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to root out al Qaeda and deny the militant movement a safe haven in a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
U.S. national security adviser James Jones (political hack) said last weekend that the al Qaeda presence has diminished (See video below), and he does not “foresee the return of the Taliban” to power. He said that according to the maximum estimate, al Qaeda has fewer than 100 fighters operating in Afghanistan without any bases or ability to launch attacks on the West.
But Bryan Glyn Williams, a University of Massachusetts associate professor who monitors militant Web sites, said he has collected reports of large numbers of al Qaeda fighters in various provinces in addition to across the border in Pakistan.
Michael Scheuer, a former CIA analyst who tracked bin Laden for three years, believes the administration may have underestimated al Qaeda’s role here because the organization prefers to work in the background providing logistics, propaganda and training to local allies.
NATO casualties have risen dramatically this year at the hands of a resurgent Taliban, and U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal is asking for up to 40,000 more American troops so that he can bolster security.SF GATE