Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

How many al Qaeda can you live with ?

- (A box of  'Super Osama bin Laden" candles bought at a bazaar in Kandahar)

(A box of 'Super Osama bin Laden" candles bought at a bazaar in Kandahar)

A furious debate has raged for several months now whether it makes sense for the United States to throw tens of thousands of  soldiers at a handful of al Qaeda that remain in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theatre, nine years after launching the global war on terrorism.

CIA director Leon Panetta  told ABC News in June thatal-Qaeda’s presencein Afghanistan was now “relatively small … I think at most, we’re looking at maybe 50 to 100.” And in nextdoor Pakistan, arguably the more  dangerous long-term threat, there were about 300  al Qaeda leaders and fighters, officials separately estimated.

Given that U.S. President Barack Obama has repeatedly said the central mission of the United States in Afghanistan was to “disrupt, defeat and dismantle ” al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan,  is this now a turning point in the war against the group ? Surely it doesn’t make too must sense to deploy 150,000 troops in Afghanistan, now that the al Qaeda has been whittled down to less than a 100 there, argue several experts.

Fareed Zakaria wrote in the Washington Post this week that with ”al Qaeda central” down to 400 fighters worldwide, the group has been unable to execute the kind of high profile attacks that were at the core of its strategy, targeting symbols of U.S.military and politicalpower.  Instead, smaller local groups, self-identified as affiliates of al-Qaeda have launched attacks against much easier sites — the nightclub in Bali; cafes in Casablanca and Istanbul; hotels in Amman, Jordan; train stations in Madrid and London. The biggest casualties in these attacks have been ordinary people, not U.S. diplomats or soldiers, and which has further turned away the local population from Islamist radicals.  Instead of inspiring unstoppable waves of jihadis as some had feared, militant Islam’s appeal has plunged across the Muslim world including in Pakistan where political parties associated with Islamic jihad have performed poorly, he says.