This week, in announcing his choice of Gen. David Petraeus to replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal to lead the U.S. war in Afghanistan, President Obama emphasized, “this is a change in personnel but it is not a change in policy.” A key tenet of this policy, as Obama has reiterated frequently, is to “disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda.”
The U.S. has committed nearly 100,000 troops to the mission in Afghanistan. ABC This Week host Jake Tapper asked CIA Director Leon Panetta how big is the al Qaeda threat that the soldiers are combating:
TAPPER: How many Al Qaeda, do you think, are in Afghanistan?
PANETTA: I think the estimate on the number of Al Qaeda is actually relatively small. I think at most, we’re looking at 50 to 100, maybe less. It’s in that vicinity. There’s no question that the main location of Al Qaeda is in the tribal areas of Pakistan.
The 100,000 U.S. forces that have been tasked to dismantle the 100 or so al Qaeda members — a ratio of 1000:1 — is complicated by the fact that we are also engaged in operations going after the Taliban leadership. Panetta said the Taliban insurgency is “engaged in greater violence right now” than when Obama took office. “They’re doing more on IED’s. They’re going after our troops. There’s no question about that. In some ways, they are stronger, but in some ways, they are weaker as well.”
Addressing whether the U.S. is pursuing the right strategy, CIA Director Leon Panetta meekly responded, “We think so.” Panetta added that the U.S. is making progress in Afghanistan. “It’s harder, it’s slower than I think anyone anticipated.”
“Winning in Afghanistan is having a country that is stable enough to ensure that there is no safehaven for al Qaeda or for a militant Taliban that welcomes al Qaeda,” Panetta told Tapper. “That’s really the measure of success for the United States.” Watch it:
Marcy Wheeler adds some figures: “1,000 US troops per al Qaeda member, at a cost of $1 million each. That’s $1 billion a year we spend for each al Qaeda member to fight our war in Afghanistan.”