Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Bill Roggio published an article at The Weekly Standard on recent claims by the CIA and other intelligence agencies that there are merely 50-100 al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan.
When CIA director Leon Panetta declared on a Sunday talk show in late June that “we’re looking at maybe 50 to 100” al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan, “maybe less,” some commentators took this as a political turning point. British journalist and author Stephen Grey commented via his Twitter account, for example, that the statement “could change the whole war debate.”
No doubt the 50 to 100 figure will be repeated by officials and pundits for some time to come; given the paucity of available information, it will factor heavily in debates over America’s strategic interests in Afghanistan. This is unfortunate, as every available indicator suggests that Panetta’s figure is unreliable. Worse, it may be evidence of a lack of rigor within the U.S. intelligence community.
Data points gleaned from coalition operations seem to undercut Panetta’s claim. Consider the case of Kunar Province.
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