Pakistan has become the nerve centre of Al Qaeda’s global operations, Gen David Petraeus has said.

The head of the US Army’s Central Command, who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has told an interviewer that Al Qaeda leaders have re-established its organisational structure and stronger ties to Al Qaeda offshoots in Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, North Africa and parts of Europe. “It is the headquarters of the Al Qaeda senior leadership,” said the general.

He also warned of difficult months ahead in Afghanistan, saying Taliban were moving weapons and forces into areas where the US is adding new troops.

“We have every expectation that the Taliban will fight to retain the sanctuaries and safe havens that they’ve been able to establish,” he said.

US officials once believed that years of strikes had broken Al Qaeda’s leadership into smaller, less effective splinter groups. But in the interview, Gen Petraeus said fresh intelligence information suggested that Al Qaeda had re-emerged as a centrally directed organisation capable of helping plan attacks in other countries. “There is a degree of hierarchy, there is a degree of interconnection, and there is certainly a flow of people, money, expertise, explosives and knowledge,” he said.

Gen Petraeus painted a picture of an Al Qaeda that maintains extensive links to terror groups in Morocco and Somalia. He said men and supplies pass through southern Iran, helped by Sunni Arab ‘facilitators’ in the country.

A ring of Tunisian suicide bombers apprehended recently in Iraq appeared to have received their directions from Pakistan as well, he said. “There’s absolutely no question about these links.”