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Al-Qaeda is “afterthought” in Afghan War

Posted by Peace Action West on August 25th, 2010

From our partners at Peace Action West

WikiLeaks continues to shed light on the US strategy in Afghanistan. According to the Washington Post, the documents show just how little the war in Afghanistan is about hunting down al-Qaeda terrorists. And the controversy is not over – WikiLeaks announced plans to release another batch of documents in the near future.

The Washington Post explains that as the war drags on, the US focuses less and less on the hunt for Osama bin Laden:

Although U.S. officials have often said that al-Qaeda is a marginal player on the Afghan battlefield, an analysis of 76,000 classified U.S. military reports posted by the Web site WikiLeaks underscores the extent to which Osama bin Laden and his network have become an afterthought in the war.

The reports, which cover the escalation of the insurgency between 2004 and the end of 2009, mention al-Qaeda only a few dozen times and even then just in passing. Most are vague references to people with unspecified al-Qaeda contacts or sympathies, or as shorthand for an amorphous ideological enemy.

Bin Laden, thought to be hiding across the border in Pakistan, is scarcely mentioned in the reports. One recounts how his picture was found on the walls of a couple of houses near Khost, in eastern Afghanistan, in 2004.

….

Other al-Qaeda leaders are similarly invisible figures. One report describes a botched June 2007 attempt to capture or kill Abu Laith al-Libi, a senior al-Qaeda military commander. U.S. Special Forces missed their target, instead accidentally killing seven children in a religious school in Paktika province.

In June, CIA Director Leon Panetta estimated that, “at most,” only 50 to 100 al-Qaeda operatives were present in Afghanistan. His assessment echoed those given by other senior U.S. officials. In October, national security adviser James L. Jones said the U.S. government’s “maximum estimate” was that al-Qaeda had fewer than 100 members in Afghanistan, with no bases and “no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies.”

Meanwhile, WikiLeaks plans to reveal the additional 15,000 documents. In an interview with Al Jazeera on Sunday, WikiLeaks founder Jullian Assange said the documents would be released “within the next two to four weeks.” He declined to discuss the content of the unreleased documents, but hinted “there’s very significant material in there.”

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