In a statement released today on Voice of Jihad, the Taliban’s propaganda website, the Afghan terror group threw back the often repeated estimate made by the US military and intelligence services on the strength of al Qaeda. The Taliban said that since the US estimates that only 50 al Qaeda members remain in Afghanistan, NATO forces should leave:
3. The American intelligence networks including the CIA state that members of Al-Qaida have all left Afghanistan and that there are not more than fifty left therefore the military presence of America is not for its own security but a long term strategy for turning our country and the region into its colony. The declaration of the new president of France, Francois Hollande, that all its troops will be removed from Afghanistan at the end of this year is a decision based on realities and a reflection of the opinion of its nation. We call upon all the other NATO member countries to avoid working for the political interests of American officials and answer the call of your own people by immediately removing all your troops from Afghanistan.
Note that the Taliban are not saying how many al Qaeda they believe are left in country, nor do they state that they have broken ties with the terror group.
The US estimate on the number of al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan has remained static (at between 50 to 100 al Qaeda operatives) for the past three years. White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan repeated this claim yet again at the end of April. For the past few years, the Obama administration has been asserting that al Qaeda has been defeated in Afghanistan and that accordingly it is time to leave. It was only a matter of time before the Taliban turned this rhetoric back on the US.
At The Long War Journal and Threat Matrix, we have repeatedly disputed this estimate. For the best summary on this, see How many al Qaeda fighters are in Afghanistan again? It is from September 2011, but the same arguments still apply. Additionally, see Bin Laden advised relocation of some leaders to Afghanistan due to drone strikes in Waziristan, for Osama bin Laden’s view on moving al Qaeda fighters into Afghanistan in October 2010.