August 4, 2009:
The U.S. is pulling most (about eight) of its Predator and Reaper UAVs away from chasing al Qaeda leaders, and putting the aircraft to work taking down the Taliban. Al Qaeda is a much diminished force, and it would appear that the inept replacements for the many terrorist leaders killed in the last year, are more valuable to the American cause alive than dead. The subtext to this shift of resources is that al Qaeda is greatly diminished as a terrorist threat, and fewer resources are required to finish it off.
Al Qaeda has been in the spotlight, and the crosshairs, for over a decade now. The organization was chased out of Afghanistan in 2001, suffering considerable losses in the process. Making a stand in Iraq, al Qaeda was crushed, along with its reputation (according to their poll ratings in the Moslem world.) Hustling back to Afghanistan and Pakistan, where a rejuvenated (by heroin profits) Taliban was fighting to protect its drug gang allies, and regain control of the country, al Qaeda sought to rebuild. This was unlikely, as the majority of Afghans wanted nothing to do with the Taliban, and even less to do with al Qaeda. Even many of the Pushtun tribes in the south were anti-Taliban (who are basically a Pushtun faction.)
Most Afghans are against the drug gangs, having seen how cheaper drugs can turn many of their own people into addicts and criminals. The drug gangs are more addicted to the cash, and the power it can buy. The Taliban see the drug gangs as a source of cash, to subsidize their battle for power. The drug gangs fight to stay in business. They bribe government officials to stay out of the way, and pay the Taliban to kill anyone who interferes. Back in the 1990s, the drug gangs just paid a tax to the Taliban, and were left to carry on with making and smuggling heroin out of the country. So the drug gangs are the key to most of the mayhem in southern Afghanistan, and more UAVs are being put on the job of finding, and helping to destroy, the drug gang assets.
Al Qaeda is seen as more of a marketing buzzword for terrorists, than as an organization in need of destruction. It's already pretty well wrecked beyond recognition.