Thursday, September 09, 2004

From the Oval Orifice 

Remember Osama bin Laden's top lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri? Like his boss, he's still running around loose. Worse yet, he's gloating:
Ayman al-Zawahri, the number two figure in al Qaeda, appeared in a new videotape aired on Al Jazeera on Thursday, ridiculing U.S. forces as stuck in a quagmire in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"In both countries, if they continue they will bleed to death and if they withdraw they lose everything," said Zawahri, the right-hand man of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

"East and south Afghanistan have become an open arena for the Mujahideen (jihad fighters). The enemy are limited to their capitals," the Egyptian-born Zawahri said.

"The Americans are hiding in their trenches and refuse to come out to face the Mujahideen, as the Mujahideen shell and fire on them, and cut roads off around them. Their defense is only to bomb by air, wasting U.S. money as they kick up dust."

Zawahri, wearing a white turban with a machine gun at his side, spoke to camera for several minutes in the tape, broadcast two days before the third anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. cities that Washington blames on Al Qaeda.

Indonesian police have blamed Islamic militants linked to Al Qaeda for a bomb attack on the Australian embassy in Jakarta on Thursday that killed at least nine people and wounded 182. A web site carried a statement purporting to be from the group, Jemaah Islamiah, claiming responsibility for the attack.

Turning to Iraq, where U.S. forces are battling an uprising against the U.S.-backed government, Zawahri said insurgents had turned Washington's plans for the oil-rich country upside down.
In light of the above, shouldn't the president be at least mildly embarrassed about his pronouncement at the RNC last week that "we are all safer" because "More than three quarters of al Qaeda's key members and associates have been detained or killed"? Especially since -- as Geraldine Sealy of Salon's "War Room" explains -- that stat is almost certainly bogus?
Newsweek points out that not only has Bush increased the alleged number of al Qaeda leaders who had been put out of commission without any explanation -- he previously said "two-thirds" had been captured or killed -- but Bush isn't providing evidence for either figure. "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," Newsweek reported. A 9/11 commission official put it more colorfully: "It was meaningless when they said two-thirds and it's meaningless when they said three-fourths. This sounds like it was pulled out of somebody's orifice."

Not only is there no hard figure for how many al-Qaida "key members and associates" there were pre-9/11, it's as difficult to judge how many there are now (although we can count in Zawahiri at least), and how many new recruits have been added to the al-Qaida fold as others are captured or killed . . . .

Further, it's amazing that Bush is even claiming credit for the capture and killing of al-Qaida members and associates. The Bush campaign has ridiculed John Kerry for suggesting that law enforcement and intelligence-gathering play a central role in combatting terrorism -- Kerry doesn't understand, the GOP says, that this is war and requires the full force of the U.S. military. But as Knight-Ridder pointed out, law enforcement and intelligence-gathering have achieved whatever success there has been so far in the global round-up of terrorist suspects. Military actions have had little effect. "While the war began with U.S. troops and their Afghan allies ousting the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in late 2001, much of al-Qaida's leadership escaped that onslaught to Pakistan. Since then, the counterterrorism successes largely have been the result of multinational cooperation from police and intelligence services," Knight-Ridder wrote.

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