Bush By The Numbers

Ken AshfordIraqLeave a Comment

Aside from his pathetic Vietnam analogy, Bush’s Iraq speech today contained this little tidbit:

“In Iraq, our troops are taking the fight to the extremists and radicals and murderers all throughout the country. Our troops have killed or captured an average of more than 1,500 al Qaeda terrorists and other extremists every month since January of this year.” (Applause.)

Let’s see.  1,500 bad guys every month ….for eight months.  That comes out to ….12,000 bad guys.

Wow.  That’s remarkable.  Especially since:

The precise size of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is not known. Estimates are that it may have from a few thousand to 5,000 fighters and perhaps twice as many supporters. While the membership of the group is mostly Iraqi, the role that foreigners play is crucial.

So if there were 15,000 AQI (I’m including both fighters AND supporters — let’s leave no stone unturned!), and we’ve killed or captured 12,000 of them — well, it seems to me that the job is almost done, right?  A couple more months and we’ll be able to withdraw?

Noooo.  Somehow I doubt that, given the Bush Administration’s propensity to ratchet up the numbers.  Remember the time the president claimed U.S. forces had captured or killed two-thirds of al Qaeda’s senior leadership?

White House and U.S. intelligence officials declined to provide any back-up data for how they developed the new number — or even to explain the methodology that was used, which they said was classified. The absence of any explanation, as well as the timing, prompted some counterterrorism experts to deride the figure as “meaningless” and predict the revision could fuel allegations that the administration is massaging terrorism data for political purposes.

“It’s like a shell game,” said Vince Cannistraro, a former top CIA counterterrorism official. “This kind of thing is susceptible to all kinds of manipulation.”

An official with the recently disbanded 9/11 commission also dismissed the new number, noting that it was impossible to get a firm handle on precisely the number of Al Qaeda “leaders” that were in place at the time of the September 11 attacks — the definition that the CIA says it used as its baseline for the estimate.

“It was meaningless when they said two thirds and it’s meaningless when they said three fourths,” said the official, who asked not to be identified. “This sounds like it was pulled out of somebody’s orifice.”

Seems to be a problem with the White House.

Anyway, Spencer Ackerman has more.