President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai met Friday to discuss bringing down the curtain in the long Afghan war. As U.S. involvement in one war against the terror movement draws down, there's increasing talk about using force to stop al-Qaida affiliates elsewhere in the world, notably in Mali, Yemen and Somalia. A look at the al-Qaida presence in all four countries:
U.S. officials say al-Qaida now has fewer than 100 fighters left in Afghanistan. Instead, the main enemy is the Taliban, the terror movement's Afghan allies who threaten the U.S.-backed government. The U.S. hopes that after 2014, the Afghan government can deal with the Taliban — politically and militarily — while a small American counterterrorism force goes after hardcore al-Qaida remnants. Obama and Karzai must agree on how many Americans will remain as part of the counterterror force and to train and equip Afghan forces. If all that works, U.S. officials believe al-Qaida will be unable to revive its presence in the country.
Mali once enjoyed a reputation as one of West Africa's most stable democracies with more than 90 percent of its 15 million people practicing a moderate form of Islam. That changed in April 2012, when Islamist extremists took over the main cities in the country's north amid disarray following a military coup and began enforcing strict Shariah law.
The extremists include al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and other groups which share al-Qaida's goals. Security experts warn they are carving out their own territory in northern Mali from where they can plot terror attacks in Africa and Europe. The militants, estimated at about 1,000, include recruits from other countries and are well-armed and funded.
Despite training from U.S. and other Western advisers, the Mali army has been ineffective in fighting the militants. The French military arrived in Mali on Friday to help the army, a day after the militants won the strategic town of Konna in central Mali.