Kabul: The top commander of US and NATO forces said that while some al-Qaeda fighters have been searching for hideouts in rugged areas of eastern Afghanistan, there are many who are not making a comeback inside the country.

"There is no question that al-Qaeda has had a presence in Afghanistan and continues to have a presence generally assessed at less than 100 or so," Gen David Petraeus said at the coalition's headquarters in the Afghan capital.

But he added: "There certainly has been some exploration for potential safe havens or sanctuaries in very mountainous areas of Nuristan and parts of Kunar provinces. Our intention, with our Afghan partners, is to maintain pressure on those who are seeking to establish safe havens."

Petraeus said that the recent deaths of seven UN workers in Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan would not affect plans for Afghan security forces to start taking the lead for security in the provincial capital this summer.

(Agencies)