While I also posted this in the Videos section, I felt this deserved some attention here at Threat Matrix. This Al Jazeera report certainly goes a long way toward punching a big hole in the notion that a mere sprinkling of al Qaeda operatives are working in Afghanistan. Note that for one Taliban unit fighting in Baghlan province, it is estimated that about one third are “foreign” – or al Qaeda. Also note how the Taliban commander is encouraging his fighters to accept the growing number of foreign fighters into his ranks.
Most likely the bulk of these “foreign” fighters are members of the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, but remember that “Chechens” (a catch-all for fighters from the Russian Caucasus region) have been spotted in units operating in the north, including in Baghlan and Nuristan. Turkish al Qaeda fighters have also made appearances in the Afghan north.
At The Long War Journal, we’ve long maintained that al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan is far greater than the “50 to 100” number that was repeated [see LWJ report, Analysis: Al Qaeda maintains an extensive network in Afghanistan for more background]. This analysis differs greatly from that of CIA Director Leon Panetta and Nation Counterterrorism Center Director Michael Leiter.
Note: The number of cells detected in Afghanistan has increased since the last time I noted it a few weeks back. By my count, al Qaeda and allied groups have operated cells in 58 districts in 19 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. These numbers are based on ISAF press releases over the past three years. If I incorporated al Qaeda propaganda (such as As Sahab notices of suicide attacks), this number would easily grow.
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