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Tortured Logic on Afghanistan and Al Qaeda

2:36 PM, Feb 6, 2009 • By BILL ROGGIO
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Over at Foreign Policy's blog, Tom Ricks gives us a prime example of making a correlation between two pieces of information that aren't necessarily related, then drawing a bad conclusion from the correlation. Ricks endorses the idea that since attacks in Afghanistan are increasing even though the United States has killed several senior al Qaeda leaders, this proves al Qaeda isn't a "key driver" behind the Afghan insurgency.

Over the last six months, 11 of al Qaeda's top leaders living along the Afghan-Pakistani border have been killed by drone airstrikes. During that same time, security in southern and eastern Afghanistan deteriorated.

So, observes John McCreary:

That kill ratio proves that al Qaida leaders are not the key drivers in the Afghan insurgency which surged far past 2007 levels of violence during the same period."

There are plenty of problems with this conclusion. I'll discuss three of them. First, the U.S. strikes have killed 7, and not 11 senior al Qaeda leaders. And it is a stretch to say, as CIA officials are claiming, that these are among al Qaeda's top leaders. Only three of those killed are members of al Qaeda's Shura Majlis, or executive council. Instead, the United States has been heavily targeting al Qaeda's external network, composed of operatives assigned to conduct attacks against the West. The other four al Qaeda leaders that were killed can be considered al Qaeda's middle-management. So this "kill ratio" proves nothing about al Qaeda involvement in the war in Afghanistan, as this campaign isn't directly related to targeting al Qaeda's senior leadership in that country.

Second, Ricks is ignoring a vital piece of information. Over the past several years, al Qaeda has begun its own training program with the Taliban. One or more al Qaeda operatives from their paramilitary branch are assigned to serve as embedded trainers for Taliban forces larger than 100 men strong. They serve as "stiffeners" to keep the Taliban fighting, much like Commissars did in the Red Army. They also impart tactics and knowledge of explosives.

Third, Ricks is ignoring the fact that al Qaeda has been flocking to Afghanistan and Pakistan after their debacle in Iraq. Reports of this migration have been in the press for years now. Al Qaeda has reorganized in Pakistan's tribal areas and has an extensive network and safe haven there, as well as in areas in eastern Pakistan.