- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Fewer than 200 al Qaeda militants remain in Afghanistan today, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday.

His comments during a virtual event hosted by the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank, came just days after the Afghan government and the Taliban kicked off long-awaited peace talks.

Under a February deal, the Taliban vowed to no longer harbor any outside terrorist groups, such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State, and to begin direct peace talks with the Afghan government in exchange for a Trump administration commitment to draw down the 13,000 American troops in Afghanistan that were there at the beginning of 2020.

“We are now delivering a set of outcomes that will reduce the cost of blood from our American service men and women,” Mr. Pompeo said.

In a speech marking the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks last Friday, the secretary asserted that “we have made great strides to defeat al-Qa’ida and other terrorist groups that seek to do us harm, and our efforts to protect our homeland continue today.”

The Defense Intelligence Agency estimated in November 2019 that roughly 300 al Qaeda members were in Afghanistan and they were “almost certainly focused on survival.”

Commander of U.S. Central Command Gen. Frank McKenzie said this year that the top leaders of al Qaeda have established a “home” in eastern Afghanistan along the border with Pakistan, but their presence remains small.

• Lauren Toms can be reached at lmeier@washingtontimes.com.

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