The Taliban on US estimates of al Qaeda strength in Afghanistan

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.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • mike merlo says:

    This is actually pretty amusing. Nothing like having one’s enemy exposing one’s Administration as clueless.

  • Reverse Stupidity says:

    So the Taliban has employed that region’s oft used method of manipulation: “But I’m just saying what YOU said…”
    The Taliban know there are more than 50 al Qaeda. But they also know what would otherwise be labelled as pulling at straws, is actually going to be picked up by some western anti-war media outlet and used to say: “look, even the Taliban can ‘prove’ there’s no need for US presence”.
    Of course, if the Taliban was really winning the war they’d be using al Qaeda as an investment card for wealthy foreign Arabs to support the noble jihad. Maybe then ISI would finally throw off the mask too…

  • Passer by says:

    The Taliban is an ideological, not a nationalist movement. There is nothing nationalist in Islam.
    “Those who follow Mohammed are ruthless to the unbelievers, but compassionate to one another”Quran (48:29)
    They will never betray Al Qaeda because they are believing muslims. To betray the foreign muslim brothers, it will mean to betray who the taliban are. The Taliban can not call themselves an islamic movement if they are betraying other (sunni) muslims.

  • My2Cents says:

    And here we all thought that al-Qaeda didn’t have a sense of humor.

  • villiger says:

    All good comments, including the one from the Talibanis. LOL

  • blert says:

    Just keep on walking…
    If there is ONE thing that unifies the Salafist movement it’s that each sub-sect is convinced that its members are on the only one true path to Allah’s grace. All other muslims are deemed expendable — sometimes even worse than infidels. (!)
    Hence, by body count, they spend more time killing muslims than anyone else. It’s not even close.
    As for the mental gymnastics within the ummah — there seems to be no limit.
    Muslims can, and do, gun down their fellows without serious public relations backlash. However, a sullied koran causes lethal riots, here, there and everywhere.
    Obviously, everything is subjective.
    BTW, what ever happened to the ex-American in Somalia? Did he lethally stray from the one true path?

  • Charu says:

    Hoist by our own petard! The Taliban, surprisingly, have a sense of humor. It must be the American Taliban spokesman.

  • Will Fenwick says:

    Passer, ask any Ibadi muslim how brotherly Sunni’s and Shiite’s have been towards members of their religion in the past. Some of the most furious fighting in Arabic history has been between sects of islam. Entire populations and islamic sects have been wiped out in wars of religion by other islamic sects.

  • sundoesntirse says:

    There is no reason to throw a jab at Passer like that. He makes good comments and he shouldn’t “Just keep on walking”…
    blert, there is no such thing as the “Ummah”. It is a myth propagated by online jihadists that want to use other Muslims to achieve their own political goals of what they want to see happen in the world. The Ummah does not exist, it never really did.
    blert, not everything is subjective, especially when other people are in physical danger over someone else’s interpretation of a 7th century mythology.

  • Witch Doctor says:

    The Taliban may not have the same sense of humor as us westerners (infidels), but they are human just like us. If you can interpret Pashto or Dari, look at some of the clips off of utube or PBS’s Frontline.
    For example I have heard stuff like “Rasheed, you are an ass! How can you be number one bomb maker when you can’t even attach two wires. The only thing you can blow up is yourself.”
    It is funny. Just like my buddies trying to get our Humvee out of the mud. You are a dumbass, you should have never put it in reverse you idiot.
    I am just demonstrating they do have a sense of humor amongst themselves, check it out. You can find some of it on the URL attached to this post.
    Everyone remember our fallen brothers and sisters come Monday.

  • Passer by says:

    Well, i tried to think like a taliban, and i think i managed to fool several people. (sorry for this)
    I wasn’t talking about “me against my cousin” part of the popular middle eastern proverb, i was talking about the “me and my cousin against the foreigner” part. Yes, islamists are often killing each other. But i was interested if its possible for them to do that on behalf of non-muslims. And i don’t think its possible.
    Now, i think that in cases where ethnic strife is involved, this proverb does not apply – take for example the kurds working together with non-muslim americans against sunni islamist arabs.
    But i think that it does apply in cases where sunni islamist groups are involved. You can not get a sunni islamist group to work against another sunni islamist group, publicly, on behalf of non-muslims.
    The apostate charge is often based on Surah 3, Verse 28, which treats this problem, and says “do not ally yourself with non-muslims against muslims”. This is the basis of apostate accusations against Karzai, Pakistani rulers, etc. This is why Pakistani rulers want to stop US drone strikes in Pakistan – in order to avoid apostate accusations from their own radicals. And this is why Pakistan never managed to fix the problem of fusion between the Afghan Taliban and TTP – because of the islamist solidarity in cases where non-muslims are involved.

  • Devin Leonard says:

    Untill the moronic Taliban agree to stop supporting Al Qaida (which unless I have missed something, they haven’t) They are still our enemy, and will be dealt with as such….with the full force of the US military hammer. The Taliban need to realize they can’t win this war. They can out last us untill 2014, but even then our Spec Ops will be there to pound them into submission. So they should give up the fight now and come to the negotiating table IMHO.


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