Half of al Qaeda has been ‘eliminated’?

Osama bin Laden escorted by the Black Guard. Click image to view.

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel seems eager to fall into the same trap as the Bush administration did in its first term with respect to the campaign against al Qaeda. This is what Emanuel said yesterday on ABC News‘ ‘This Week’ about the Obama administration’s efforts against the terror group:

Emanuel also discussed the Taliban and Al Qaeda. “About a half of Al Qaeda has been eliminated in this last 18 months,” he said. “So we’re taking the pressure to al Qaeda, taking the pressure to the Taliban.”

Yet there was no information provided to back up such a statement. Let’s rewind the clock back to 2004:

President George W. Bush said on Tuesday he would tell the Republican convention that three-quarters of known al Qaeda leaders have been captured or killed, an increase from an earlier estimate of two-thirds.

For months, the CIA had privately advocated switching to the 75 percent figure, though the White House balked at using it publicly. Critics say the estimate is meaningless as losses by a decentralized al Qaeda are ever harder to estimate.

Bush told conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh that during his speech accepting the Republican nomination on Thursday he would “tell the people that three-quarters of the known al Qaeda leadership has been brought to justice.”

“And we’re still obviously on the hunt,” Bush added.

White House officials said the change took new information about arrests and the al Qaeda network into account, and was not politically timed for the Republican convention, where Bush’s war on terror is a central theme.

A CIA spokesman said the 75 percent estimate “is absolutely consistent with our view.”

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • bob says:

    As ever, the foolhardy judge how defeated terrorists or insurgents are by % of casualties, like they are some Wermacht division! The Viet Cong were almost entirely wiped out by the early ’70’s and yet somehow they still played a role in 75. And sadly, Al Qaeda seem slowly creeping back in Iraq.

  • Atiyyatullah says:

    In related news,
    I am announcing that I have eliminated half of the population of unicorns in South Africa…
    I think that statement carries about the same weight as what Emanuel is saying. How are you supposed to offer a statistic on an organization of which you have no clue of the total numbers? Estimates of the strength of Al-Qaa’ida are so varied that you could claim that you killed half of it and 3-4% of it with the same kill count.

  • Neo says:

    Al Qaeda is an organization based around a specific idea. That idea is to vanquish the Americans and Europeans by directly taking large scale terrorist activities directly to the United States and Europe. The basic premise is that the godless westerners are feckless and weak willed. Frustrating the westerners with relentless violent pressure will cause their conflicted democracies to quickly implode.
    Unfortunately organizations like Al Qaeda don’t just die, they wither over the years, and decades, as their goals are frustrated. After 9/11 Al Qaeda became the banner carrier for Islamist groups who wished to resist the west. If Al Qaeda’s strategy is seen as counterproductive you will eventually see militant groups decouple and distance themselves from the “direct attack”

  • Brett says:

    Whatever Al Qaeda’s numbers might be, they are not static. This is like saying you’ve emptied half a spring-pond, only to be surprised when it’s refilled.
    It’s just like James Bond told Goldfinger: “Go ahead and kill me; 008 is waiting to take my place.”

  • ArneFufkin says:

    I guess I don’t see the analogy of Emmanuel’s statement to the Bush comment. There is a difference between saying “half of Al Qaeda” and “3/4 of known Al Qaeda leadership.” The latter statement has a meaningful qualifier and was probably demonstrable.

  • JRP says:

    Brett’s “spring-pond” analogy is apt. You eliminate AQ by chopping off the head; i.e., AQ leadership. We’ve been so so very diverted from our original mission after 9/11. We should not care one bit about democratizing Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, or any other place in the World. Our mission should be the destruction of AQ before AQ obtains Nukes and destroys us. Our only excuse for fighting the Taliban should be, because the Taliban is hindering our apprehension or destruction of AQ leadership. If we are fighting the Taliban for the purpose of liberating the Afghan people from it, then not only are we wrong-headed, but we are also probably acting against our own Constitution.

  • Charu says:

    Nonsense! AQ has only morphed from being an Arab-led organization into one run by Pakistani-Punjabis, with groups like the Pakistani Taliban and LeT and JeM spearheading the global call for jihad. The situation is more dangerous because the Pakistani leadership of these AQ offshoots are militarily trained, and have access to nuclear weapons technology.


Islamic state



Al shabaab

Boko Haram