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Reuters August 31, 2004

Bush to say more Qaeda leaders killed, captured

WASHINGTON, Aug 31 (Reuters) - President George W. Bush said on Tuesday he would tell the Republican convention that three-quarters of known al Qaeda leaders have been captured or killed, an increase from an earlier estimate of two-thirds.

For months, the CIA had privately advocated switching to the 75 percent figure, though the White House balked at using it publicly. Critics say the estimate is meaningless as losses by a decentralized al Qaeda are ever harder to estimate.

Bush told conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh that during his speech accepting the Republican nomination on Thursday he would "tell the people that three-quarters of the known al Qaeda leadership has been brought to justice."

"And we're still obviously on the hunt," Bush added.

White House officials said the change took new information about arrests and the al Qaeda network into account, and was not politically timed for the Republican convention, where Bush's war on terror is a central theme.

A CIA spokesman said the 75 percent estimate "is absolutely consistent with our view."

John Pike, a defense analyst with GlobalSecurity.org, said recent arrests may have helped prevent attacks against the United States but it was hard, because of the decentralized nature of al Qaeda, to estimate losses.

"That's been a pretty slippery issue right there," he said.

Flynt Leverett, who who was a senior director on Bush's National Security Council and now an informal adviser to Democratic rival John Kerry, called it a "meaningless assertion."

"We don't really know at this point the real map of the al Qaeda network as it has morphed," Leverett said.

A White House fact sheet listing those captured or killed includes: Mohammed Atef, al Qaeda's senior field commander, killed in a bombing raid in Afghanistan; Abu Zubaydah, Osama bin Laden's field commander after the killing of Atef, captured in Pakistan; as well as al Qaeda senior leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was captured in Pakistan.

Bin Laden remains at large.


Copyright 2004, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution