The question of how much of a threat the Taliban actually poses to the US was at the heart of discussions on Afghanistan strategy yesterday, officials say. Members of Obama's national security team argued that recent successes in Pakistan show that al-Qaeda can be defeated without extra troops in Afghanistan, while the Taliban—which they described as an indigenous group interested in gaining territory but not in attacking the US—will be almost impossible to oust.
The Taliban is a loose collection of militant groups, officials argued, many of whose members are more interested in local grievances than Islamic extremism. When al-Qaeda and the Taliban are aligned it is "mainly on the tactical front," one official told the New York Times, noting that al-Qaeda has fewer than 100 fighters in Afghanistan. Some analysts say that the Taliban's interest in regaining power would prevent them from offering al-Qaeda sanctuary, while others argue that al-Qaeda and the Taliban have grown closer since 2001.