Al-Qaeda militants are gradually returning to eastern Afghanistan and setting up bases for the first time in years, exploiting a withdrawal of United States troops in the area, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.
The trend has alarmed and discouraged US officials who had seen al-Qaeda as a seriously weakened force in Afghanistan, with only a couple of dozen fighters on the ground, the newspaper reported, citing unnamed US, Afghan and Taliban sources.
In September, the US bombed an al Qaeda training camp in the Korengal valley, killing two senior al Qaeda figures, a Saudi and Kuwaiti, the coalition led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) coalition told the Journal. One of Saudi Arabia’s most wanted militants was also reportedly killed in the strike by US fighter jets.
The bombing raid illustrated the revival of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan that has occurred over the past six to eight months, as the US military pulled troops back from remote eastern outposts that had been deemed strategically irrelevant.
Instead, US and coalition commanders have said they want to focus their troops on populated areas in the east while handing over security duties in more rural areas to Afghan forces.
US officers expected the Taliban to move out of the areas to fight the coalition elsewhere. But the militants have stayed put, a senior US military officer told the paper, and “al-Qaeda is coming back”.