KABUL - Fewer than 100 Al-Qaeda members remain inside Afghanistan, the second-most senior US commander in Afghanistan said on Monday, but those fighters act as a “cadre” organization for the Afghan Taliban providing resources and technical battlefield skills.
US Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez also said it was too early to say if the death of Osama Bin Laden had an impact on the Taliban or if it would affect a gradual US troop drawdown due to begin in July.
“We still think that there are just less than a hundred Al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan,” Rodriguez, commander of day-to-day operations for the 150,000-strong NATO-led force in Afghanistan, told reporters in Kabul.
“But what they do is a cadre-type organization that helps out to bring both resources as well as technical skills to the rest of the Taliban fighting here,” he said.
President Hamid Karzai and senior Afghan officials have said the killing of Bin Laden showed the war against terrorism was outside Afghanistan and “not in Afghan villages.”
Analysts have also questioned the extent of the relationship between Al-Qaeda and Taliban-led insurgents in Afghanistan, saying ties were already strained before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States planned by Bin Laden.
The Taliban, who once sheltered Bin Laden, were also slow to react to his death, unlike other Islamist groups around the world who called for revenge, a sign many analysts said was an attempt to distance themselves from Al-Qaeda.
But Rodriguez said Al-Qaeda worked with different insurgent groups in Afghanistan on “multiple levels” to increase their effectiveness. It was still too early to tell, however, whether Bin Laden’s death would affect the Taliban.
“There’s been a bunch of chatter here and there but no effects that we can see at this point. I think it’s too early to see that but we’re continuing to watch that carefully over time,” said Rodriguez.
Rodriguez said the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan remained the same following the death of Bin Laden and that no decision had been made yet regarding the scope of the troop drawdown.
“The Al-Qaeda movement is not just based on one individual. We’re just going to have to see ... how much impact that will have on the strength on Al-Qaeda and its associated movements, but that’s yet to be seen,” he said.
Asked whether Bin Laden’s death should have an effect on the speed of the US troop withdrawal, Rodriguez said: “We are going to see how it goes but there has been no decision on that yet.” (Agencies)