Death of a hoary old chestnut?
Might we finally be seeing the death of that hoary old chestnut thrown about for so long–about a robust pre-9/11 “AQ” with a large membership base of at least several hundred or more usually several thousand members, instead of the just under 200 strong membership (198 actually) it had as 9/11 loomed??? As long term readers of this blog will know it is one of the first things I wrote about when I started allthingsct last year.
Peter Bergen’s new piece gives me hope that this may be taking place. Yay!!!
I really hope his piece has some impact in killing off this myth once and for all.
What gives me hope is that this is the first time I can think of that approximate number has been cited in print with the exception of its original source (which was the 2006 Silverstein article excerpted below which quoted an interview with a former FBI agent) which I pointed out in this blog a year ago. But I have had my head under the thesis rock recently, so maybe I’ve missed others.
In any case I hope Bergen’s article starts a trend of a broader reconsideration of the figures for no other reason that what I wrote about nearly a year ago…because if we don’t have the baseline correct any effort to define success is going to be dodgy. As I noted nearly a year ago
what people miss is that this number of 200 is the same that al Qaeda had BEFORE 9/11. And this comes from a former FBI Agent interviewed by Ken Silverstein (see here). This is Silverstein’s account:
Two years ago, I interviewed Jack Cloonan, a 25-year veteran of the FBI who, between 1996 and 2002, served on a joint CIA–FBI task force that tracked bin Laden. “How many members of Al Qaeda do you think there are?” he asked me. Cloonan laughed when I pegged its membership at several thousand. The real numbers, he said, “are miniscule.”
Documents discovered by the joint task force, Cloonan said, showed that Al Qaeda had 72 members when it was founded in 1989. Twelve years later, the task force got its hands on an updated membership list after a CIA Predator destroyed a building near Kabul during the American invasion of Afghanistan. The membership list was discovered in the rubble, along with dozens of casualties, including Mohammed Atef, one of bin Laden’s closest aides. It showed that bin Laden had a grand total of precisely 198 sworn loyalists.
I’m reliably informed from another source that this number is correct and the document authentic.
So then, let’s reconsider….
Are we winning if al Qaeda can keep replicating and stay at the same number of people that it had before 9/11?
Plenty of this is self evident, so I won’t bore you with any additional comments, except to say that one thing stood straight out when I read this. Their account of the class size–some 30 persons. Why this stood out is that this was the size of AQ’s basic training course at al-Farouq (though sometimes they had up to 40). And this size is actually bigger than the advanced training course size at Tarnak, which usually sat at around 15-20 persons.
Previous reports from recent training had tended to suggest AQ was only training at around 15 or so in a group, so this 30 figure stood out immediately. Whether they can still do this is of course a matter for debate, but nonetheless, even with talk of taking out so many fighters, which the authors cover in their article, this account of a full training compliment gives pause for thought.