Al Qaeda, the group whose Sept. 11 terrorist attacks provoked the U.S. invasion in 2001, has shrunk to relative obscurity among the military’s other missions in Afghanistan, supplanted by newer threats such as a local branch of the Islamic State. And it is a matter of debate how much Al Qaeda’s remaining Afghan presence still focuses on launching attacks overseas, according to current and former military officers and government officials, experts, and Afghans from areas where the group operates.

Only a small portion of the 15,000 American troops in Afghanistan are involved in the counterterrorism mission that the military calls its “core objective” there. Even fewer of those are hunting al Qaeda, whose presence in the country has dwindled after years of drone strikes. Instead, U.S. special operations forces are focusing on the Afghan branch of ISIS, a less secretive group that in some way offers an easier target…

“Al Qaeda may have decided, let’s forget about external attacks for the time being and focus inside Afghanistan on helping the Taliban,” said Seth Jones, a terrorism scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who has consulted for military counterterrorism units. “That may be a strategic decision for the moment, and then at some point down the road they shift back.”