Special to WorldTribune.com
Al Qaida has a larger presence in Afghanistan than U.S. defense officials had previously thought and its ties to the Taliban make the terror group a “big threat” in the country.
Maj. Gen. Jeff Buchanan, Deputy Chief of Staff for the U.S. military force in Afghanistan, said the recent discovery and destruction by U.S. forces of an Al Qaida training camp in Kandahar province caused the U.S. to revise its estimates of the terror group’s strength in the country.
“If you go back to last year, there were a lot of intel estimates that said within Afghanistan Al Qaida probably has 50 to 100 members, but in this one camp we found more than 150.”
Acting Afghan Defense Minister Masoom Stanikzai told CNN that Al Qaida is maintaining a low profile but is expanding.
Related: Saudi-Iran proxy war in Yemen empowered and enriched Al Qaida, Geostrategy-Direct, Aprl 11.
“They are really very active. They are working in quiet and reorganizing themselves and preparing themselves for bigger attacks,” he said.
“There’s not thousands of them, but clearly in remote parts of Afghanistan there are Al Qaida leaders we’re concerned about and what they’re capable of doing.”
Buchanan said the training camp, destroyed by U.S. special forces and Afghan commandos in October, showed a high degree of sophistication “with ties back to Al Qaida and a subset called Al Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent.”
“To find them in Afghanistan was quite troubling.”
Stanikzai said the Taliban has grown closer to Al Qaida since Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour became leader in mid-2015.
“The big cover is the Taliban,” said Stanikzai. “They need the fighters, they need the support and they need recruitment from other places, and this is why (the Taliban) embrace them.”
Meanwhile, Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has built a strong presence in Yemen, with a large area of control and a force of some 3,000 jihadists near the strategic port city of Mukalla.
AQAP quietly reinvented itself in Yemen amid the Saudi-led effort to restore the government of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi after Iran-backed Houthi rebels seized the capital Sanaa.
“The campaign, backed by the United States, has helped Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula to become stronger than at any time since it first emerged almost 20 years ago,” a Reuters report said.