How many times do 75 percent of al Qaeda’s top leaders need to be killed before the terror group is dead?

The Obama Administration likes to tout the number of senior al Qaeda leaders who have been killed, when declaring the terror group is on its deathbed. Most recently, the administration said that “22 out of 30 top Al Qaeda leaders,” or 73 percent, have been killed during counterterrorism operations. From The New York Times, Dec. 17, 2011:

The drone strikes and commando raids that the president recently boasted had killed “22 out of 30 top Al Qaeda leaders,” including Osama bin Laden, were honed in the night raids by American troops on militants in Iraq.

This is a refrain that has spanned presidential administrations. President Bush also claimed that 75 percent of al Qaeda’s leaders were killed or captured (back when we actually tried to capture al Qaeda leaders, that is). From The Washington Times, on June 7, 2005:

President Bush, in assessing progress in the war, often cites the statistic that 75 percent of known al Qaeda leaders have been killed or captured. The strategy has been generally that if you cut off the head of al Qaeda, the body will eventually die.

Same as it ever was…

Also see Threat Matrix report, The ‘only 50 to 100’ al Qaeda in Afghanistan fallacy.

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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  • James says:

    Actually, even if it were true (that there’s only ’50 to 100′ aq thugs left in Af/Pak), how would such a marvelous thing have come about? Answer: From our being there; certainly NOT from our NOT being there.

  • Devin Leonard says:

    I know Obama is not popular around here, and being an independent I have my problems with him too, but he has done an admirable job of killing Al Qaida commanders, including finally getting Bin Laden, and doing it the RIGHT way as opposed to just bombing the complex. Having said that. This article is correct. Al Qaida is not dead. The administartion needs to stop telling people that they are 75% or whatever gone. They can always recruit new people and pop up in new locations. We need to keep at Al Qaida no matter who is president in 2012, whether it’s Obama or someone else. The only way to finish them off is to stop engaging in pointless wars, and remain focused on the true enemy Al Qaida and their supporters.

  • Moon Mullin says:

    Until we kill’m all, that’s how long we have to pursue them. They are not rational, their loses mean nothing to them. It may make them hide better, but they will not stop coming after us. We have lost our ability really be terribly savage when we kill, how we kill them, etc. I fear we will be fighting them for a long, long time. There is no responsible organization, they word means nothing, it’s alright to lie to achieve their goals.

  • Dan says:

    If that is true then were did 9/11 come from. This is more complicated than you would like to admit.
    Fighting a stateless army is not easy, or quick, but in this case, if we fail the Carew Tower, in Cincinnati, or Marina Towers, in Chicago may be part of the next wave to come out of there.

  • The experience of guerrillas fighting the Japanese in the Philippines during WW II shows that killing off the leadership doesn’t always make the guerrillas weaker. There were several cases in the Philippines in which the “success” of the Japs in capturing or killing a guerrilla leader only brought to the top a more aggressive and successful leader. Killing the leadership is important, but it’s no guarantee of success.

  • James says:

    I agree with you (if that’s what you are inferring) that this whole ‘invade/occupy’ strategy of the previous admin has been a catastrophe for our Country.
    We do need to realign ourselves and our priorities in the GWOT. However, that shouldn’t mean that we should have to order our troops in Afg to stampede to the exit doors. I’m all in favor of a gradual realignment.
    We can walk and chew gum at the same time. We can and should multitask this thing. We should be able to keep Afghanistan both free and stable AND fight aq on a global scale.
    Also what enrages me is the fact that our soldiers over there are having to fight those thugs that are coming from all over the world and we the American people are having to pay for it. It is undeniable that many of them are coming from Russian and China, for example.
    We need to fight global terrorism on a global scale and we must lead the world to do so.
    “The only way to finish them off is to stop engaging in pointless wars, and remain focused on the true enemy Al Qaida and their supporters.”
    Point well put and I agree with you 100%.

  • Colin says:

    It is possible to kill 75% of the known leaders, then AQ replaces them and you kill them as well. The real metric to measure while doing the above is: Are the new leaders better than the previous bunch? If so you have a serious problem. If not then you are winning. Most armies and terroist organization can rustle up warm bodies, finding capable leaders is a problem for everyone. If the last 8 guys in the post only lasted an average of 4 months each, then a smart guy might not be interested in the job. Not to mention lack of mentoring, connections, knowledge, training are all going to disappear.


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