Al- Qaeda returns to Afghanistan: US, Afghan officials

Kabul, Apr 6: Militant Islamist group Al-Qaeda is re-establishing itself as a force in Afghanistan's Korengal valley, claim both the US and Afghan officials.

Over the past six to eight months, Al Qaeda has begun setting up training camps, hideouts and operation bases in remote mountains along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

The stepped-up infiltration followed a U.S. pullback from large swatches of the region starting 18 months ago. The areas were deemed strategically irrelevant and left to Afghanistan's uneven security forces, and in some parts, abandoned entirely.

"Al Qaeda tends to navigate to areas where they sense a vacuum. There are serious concerns about al Qaeda moving back into some areas of Afghanistan, the places that we've pulled back from," said Seth G. Jones, a senior political scientist at the Rand Corporation in Washington.

American commanders have argued that the U.S. military presence in remote valleys is the main reason why locals are joining the Taliban. nce American soldiers leave, they predicted, the Taliban would go too. Instead, the Taliban have stayed and "al Qaeda is coming back," The Wall Street Journal qouted a senior U.S. military officer, as saying.

According to one U.S. general, coalition troops are making quick incursions in valley to counter the return.

Clandestine raids by Special Operations Forces have also proved to be effective.

There is ongoing debate within the U.S. military and intelligence community about the scope of al Qaeda problem in Afghanistan.

Almost all U.S. and Afghan officials caution that al Qaeda isn't yet secure enough in northeastern Afghanistan to use the area as a staging ground for attacks overseas.

Al Qaeda's message of Islamic revolution has in recent months seemed increasingly out of sync in a Middle East where a series of grass-roots upheavals are being driven largely by secular young people demanding democracy.

But its recent resurgence in Afghanistan suggests that it retains potency in predominately Muslim parts of South Asia where it has put down roots in the past 15 years.

Copyright Asian News International/