Drone strikes and covert operations have weakened Afghanistan’s al Qaeda network and could justify a White House decision to withdraw troops quicker than planned, The New York Times reported on Saturday. Citing high-ranking officials, the newspaper reported that 20 of al Qaeda’s 30 prominent leaders in the region had been killed in the past year. US President Barack Obama ordered 33,000 extra forces to Afghanistan in December 2009 in an attempt to thwart an emboldened Taliban’s momentum, bringing the total deployed to 100,000. He said he would begin withdrawing forces in July 2011. The US military however is asking Obama to maintain its troop surge in Afghanistan until the fall of 2012, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday. Obama is facing mounting pressure to announce a significant drawdown after the killing of Osama bin Laden and amid domestic economic woes and a mounting US death toll.