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Jihadis shift attention to war in Afghanistan

Afghan and NATO officials are seeing a rise in numbers of foreign fighters in Afghanistan at the same time US officials say attacks by Al Qaeda in Iraq have sharply dropped.

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In the wake of setbacks suffered by Al Qaeda in Iraq, Afghanistan is becoming the preferred destination for Muslims, particularly from Arab nations, seeking to wage jihad against the West.

"You can predict that Afghanistan is reemerging as a battlefield," says Nicole Stracke, a security and terrorism researcher at the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center.

At the same time, jihadi websites affiliated with Al Qaeda have been giving renewed emphasis to the war in Afghanistan, especially in recruitment advertisements, after years of highlighting the battle against US forces in Iraq, says Brian Glyn Williams, associate professor of Islamic history at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth.

"The perception on many Al Qaeda websites is that the momentum has come around to the side of the insurgency and that Afghanistan is winnable" as opposed to the war in Iraq, which is "no longer seen as a sure thing," says Mr. Williams.

That is a big change from four years ago, he adds, when "all the interest was in Iraq." Afghanistan "might be forgotten by the West but Al Qaeda never took their eye off the ball," he says. "They're biding their time." Both he and Stracke say that the refocus on Afghanistan began in mid-2007 with the weakening of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Coincidentally, they noted, Al Qaeda operations in Afghanistan increased.

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