Washington: Al-Qaida's Afghanistan leader is laying the groundwork to relaunch his war-shattered organization once the United States and international forces withdraw from the country, as they have warned they will do without a security agreement from the Afghan government, US officials say.
Farouq al-Qahtani al-Qatari has been cementing local ties and bringing in small numbers of experienced militants to train a new generation of fighters, and US military and intelligence officials say they have increased drone and jet missile strikes against him and his followers in the mountainous eastern provinces of Kunar and Nuristan.
The objective is to keep him from restarting the large training camps that once drew hundreds of followers before the US-led war began.
The officials have said that the counterterrorism campaign — a key reason the Obama administration agreed to keep any troops in Afghanistan after 2014 — could be jeopardized by the possibility of a total pullout.
House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers said the number of al-Qaida members in Afghanistan has risen but is not much higher than the several hundred or so the US has identified in the past.
"I think most are waiting for the US to fully pull out by 2014," he said.
The administration would like to leave up to 10,000 troops in Afghanistan after combat operations end on December 31, to continue training Afghan forces and conduct counterterrorism missions.