WASHINGTON - The leader of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, Farouq al-Qahtani al-Qatari, is moving to shore up his support and retrain militants, as the United States and President Hamid Karzai’s government remain at an impasse over a bilateral security agreement that would allow US troops to stay in the war-torn country beyond this year, according to a US media report.
Defence and intelligence officials have been cited as saying that a counterterrorism campaign, including drone and missile strikes, is underway to keep al-Qatari from restarting the large militant training camps that he oversaw before the war began.
Al-Qatari is reported to be in the Kunar and Nuristan provinces, near the Pakistani border, where officials would like to keep him. They added that without the continued ability to fly drones and jets from at least one air base - which could be blocked if a bilateral security agreement between the U.S. and Afghanistan isn’t reached- the al-Qaeda leader and his followers could plan attacks against the United States. President Barack Obama on Tuesday asked for the Pentagon to create a contingency plan for withdrawing all US troops by the end of the year, referred to as the “zero option.” If all U.S. troops leave the country, NATO will also pull its forces.
Obama’s request followed a public campaign by US and NATO officials to get the Afghan president to sign the security agreement. Karzai pushed the signing of the pact until after the country’s elections this spring. Military and administration officials, members of Congress, and outside experts have repeatedly warned that if the United States pulls out all of its troops, the Taliban and al-Qaeda would likely see a resurgence in the country.
That line of thought was echoed by Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army chief of staff, earlier this month. He said that Afghanistan’s institutions, including security forces, have made “quite a bit” of progress, but aren’t strong enough to maintain those advances over the long term. The Defence Department has recommended leaving 10,000 troops in the country through 2017.