Intel Officials Estimate Al Qaeda Numbers Fewer Than 500 Operatives

At a conference yesterday held in the foreign policy hotbed of Aspen, Co., Michael Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, estimated that there were somewhat “more than 300” Al Qaeda leaders and fighters hiding in Pakistan’s lawless tribal region that borders Afghanistan.

Combining that figure with a recent estimate given by CIA director Leon Panetta that fewer than 100 Al Qaeda operatives are currently in Afghanistan, then 500 appears to be the number of hard-core Qaeda operatives intelligence officials believe are in the area that is now the focus of major U.S. military and intelligence operations.

President Obama has said the main reason for the surge of some 100,000 troops to Afghanistan was to prevent the country from once again becoming a safe have for Al Qaeda. Next door in Pakistan, the CIA has stepped up its drone bombing campaign targeting Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders.

-- Greg Grant

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