How many al Qaeda operatives are now left in Afghanistan?
A video from the Sa'ad bin Abi Waqas Group, an al Qaeda subgroup in Kunar province, Afghanistan, released in early 2010 by the Ansar al Mujahideen Forum. The video shows members inventorying equipment to outfit a platoon of fighters.
Buried at the end of this morning's ISAF press release on the death of Abu Hafs al Najdi (Abdul Ghani) is a note that more than 25 al Qaeda operatives and leaders have been killed in Afghanistan over the past month:
The al Qaeda network and its safe havens remains a top priority for Afghan and coalition forces. In the last month, coalition forces have killed more than 25 al Qaeda leaders and fighters, and the death of Abdul Ghani marks a significant milestone in the disruption of the al Qaeda network.
This certainly calls into question the much-touted intelligence estimate on al Qaeda strength in Afghanistan. Last year, CIA Director Leon Panetta floated the estimate on national television.
"I think at most, we're looking at maybe 50 to 100 [al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan], maybe less," Panetta said on ABC News This Week on June 27, 2010. "It's in that vicinity. There's no question that the main location of al-Qaeda is in tribal areas of Pakistan."
General Petraeus repeated this estimate earlier this month. "There is no question that al-Qaida has had a presence in Afghanistan and continues to have a presence - generally assessed at less than 100 or so," General Petraeus told reporters in Kabul on April 10.
Given that ISAF has announced that it killed more than 25 al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan this past month alone, this leaves many questions unanswered. Here are some:
- Why has the estimate of al Qaeda strength in Afghanistan remained static for nearly a year?
- What is the intelligence community's present estimate of al Qaeda strength in Afghanistan? Can the estimate be revised downward to 25-75 al Qaeda operatives currently in Afghanistan given the results of operations over the past month?
- Does US intel believe that most of the 50-100 (or is it now 25-75?) al Qaeda operatives are clustered in Kunar province?
- What is the intelligence community and the military's definition of al Qaeda? Does this only include operatives who have personally sworn bayat (allegiance) to Osama bin Laden?
For more on the subject of al Qaeda's strength in Afghanistan, see:
- Analysis: Al Qaeda maintains an extensive network in Afghanistan, The Long War Journal
- Analysis: Al Qaeda martyrdom tape shows nature and extent of terror group's reach in Afghanistan, The Long War Journal
- Al Qaeda never left Kunar, and other problems with US intel, Threat Matrix
- The 'only 50 to 100' al Qaeda in Afghanistan fallacy, Threat Matrix
- Are there 'al Qaeda guys' in Afghanistan?, Threat Matrix