WASHINGTON, July 31 – Several Al-Qaeda leaders in Iraq have left the country for Afghanistan in a sign of weakness in the insurgent group, The Washington Post reported Thursday quoting Iraqi intelligence.
US officials also say Al-Qaeda may be sending new recruits to Afghanistan, where they have made gains, and away from Iraq, where they have been hit by US and Iraqi forces, the newspaper reported.
"We do believe Al-Qaeda is doing some measure of re-assessment regarding the continued viability of its fight in Iraq and whether Iraq should remain the focus of its efforts," Brigadier General Brian Keller, senior intelligence officer for General David Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, told the paper in an e-mail.
But Keller cautioned that the United States had not confirmed that recruits are being sent to Afghanistan or that Al-Qaeda in Iraq leaders have gone there.
The Post, citing a US intelligence analyst, reported that Al-Qaeda in Iraq has been "seriously weakened" in the last year and that the flow of foreign fighters into the country has plummeted.
Abdullah al-Ansari, an Al-Qaeda leader in Fallujah, told the daily that group leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri had traveled to Afghanistan through Iran.
"It’s not known yet whether he would come back or not," he said, referring to Masri.
Petraeus spokesman Colonel Steven Boylan, however, said that the United States could not confirm Masri’s whereabouts.
"Our current assessment is that he remains in Iraq." Some top Iraqi officials continue to say that Masri was killed last year, but the assertion has never been corroborated by the US military.
Intelligence officer Keller said the United States was unsure what the diversion of fighters to Afghanistan means.
"We continue to wrestle with the question of whether this represents a strategic shift on the part of Al-Qaeda," Keller wrote.
"We do know that Al-Qaeda leaders will never give up entirely on Iraq, but they may in the future see Afghanistan or some other location yet to be determined as a place where their resources may be more effectively employed."