Good to know, although whether this is comforting or ominous depends on what Obama decides about troop levels, doesn’t it? The one outcome guaranteed to anger both left and right is staying put with too few troops to secure the country; all that does is keep men in harm’s way to save face until we can withdraw “with honor.” If we’re going to keep just enough people there to lose, pull out now and save some American lives.

“We are not leaving Afghanistan. This discussion is about next steps forward and the president has some momentous decisions to make,” Gates said in a TV program taped at George Washington University that will be aired by CNN on Tuesday…

“The reality is that because of our inability, and the inability, frankly, of our allies, (for putting) enough troops into Afghanistan, the Taliban do have the momentum right now, it seems,” Gates said.

However, he said the United States could not afford to give al Qaeda and the Taliban the propaganda victory of a U.S. retreat in Afghanistan, where mujahideen forced the Soviet Union to withdraw in 1989 after a decade of bloody warfare…

“What’s more important than that in my view is the message that it sends that empowers al Qaeda … The notion that they have come back from this defeat, come back from 2002, to challenge not only the United States but NATO, 42 nations, is a hugely empowering message should they be successful.” he said.

Sure sounds like he’s leaning towards McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy/heavy footprint, which may explain why news stories about how we’ve infiltrated Al Qaeda and how the organization is a shell of its former self are now creeping into newspapers. Clearly, some military and intel people who’d prefer Biden’s counterterror approach and a lighter footprint are keen for Americans to think that current troop levels are adequate to keep AQ under control.

Hunted by U.S. drones, beset by money problems and finding it tougher to lure young Arabs to the bleak mountains of Pakistan, al Qaeda is seeing its role shrink there and in Afghanistan, according to intelligence reports and Pakistani and U.S. officials. Conversations intercepted by the U.S. show al Qaeda fighters complaining of shortages of weapons, clothing and, in some cases, food. The number of foreign fighters in Afghanistan appears to be declining, U.S. military officials say…

Similarly, the U.S. in the past was unable to comprehensively monitor communications in Pakistan; that has now been rectified, said an official briefed on U.S. operations. Through that monitoring, U.S., British and Pakistani intelligence officials have seen increasing evidence that al Qaeda is having difficulty raising money…

The new intelligence has provided fresh ways to try to undermine the foreign al Qaeda fighters. Pakistani authorities say they’ve started targeting food shipments believed to be headed for al Qaeda operatives, who prefer their own cuisine over local fare. “The Talibs, they’re eating mutton, chicken, bread — the food ordinary people eat,” said an officer from Pakistan’s ISI spy agency. “The Arabs want their own food.”

Exit question: If the Al Qaeda senior leadership is so boxed in, how’d Najibullah Zazi manage to make contact with them?