Tucked deep in the Tora Bora mountains in eastern Afghanistan lies one of Osama bin Laden's defunct military bases.
The base was home to the al-Qaeda leader before it was destroyed during the US-led bombing of Afghanistan in 2001.
Locals still remember the man who was a guest of the Taliban regime. "He was a simple guy just like us ... he never disturbed anyone. He was unique," says resident Hajji Tutti.
Baz Ghul, another local, recalls: "Every time we came to visit, he treated us well and greeted us with both hands. When the bombing started, he disappeared and we never saw him again."
For years there have been contradictory reports on bin Laden's whereabouts – and even whether he is dead or alive.
While bin Laden's fate remains unknown, the question of how strong al-Qaeda is eight years on is at the heart of the current debate over whether to send additional US troops to Afghanistan.
That is how the White House is selling the war to the American people as it reviews its war strategy.
Barack Obama, the US president, believes there is a huge risk al-Qaeda will once again find safe haven in Afghanistan – an assessment government officials here agree with.
"The terrorists operating in Afghanistan are a branch of international terrorism," says Rangin Dadfar Spanta, the Afghan foreign minister.
Spanta believes the country is a victim of global extremism, denying that the current increase in violence is a domestic insurgency.
The foreign minister has also warned against any withdrawal of foreign forces from the country, describing such a move as "unacceptable for Afghanistan".
The US invaded the country in 2001 in order to capture or kill bin Laden, and deny al-Qaeda sanctuary. Eight years later, that mission remains unaccomplished.
Some analysts believe that not only has Washington failed to curb al-Qaeda's influence, but the presence of US troops in Afghanistan has simply served to export al-Qaeda ideology to other groups – including the Pakistan Taliban.
"We have not only been unable to defeat al-Qaeda ... [but] we have taken them from Afghanistan to the FATA area [Pakistan's northern tribal areas) where their key leadership resides and now have a serious role in Afghanistan," says Hekmat Karzai, a regional security analyst.
Source: Al Jazeera (English)