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A Lobster Recanting
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Now I kind of like Fafblog, the weird blog collective of Glofish commentary and liberal political satire. But I'm not very impressed by their cheesy backpeddling on a post I commented about on their site yesterday.

One of their bloggers, Medium Lobster, posted a link to this CNN article, which talks about estimates of 18,000 Al Qaeda terrorists worldwide. ML wrote something snarky about how this shows that the War on Terrorism must be going swimmingly, since Al Qaeda's ranks have "jumped by" 18,000. But it appeared that the ML didn't actually read the article it linked to, which says, about midway through:

The estimate of 18,000 fighters was based on intelligence estimates that al Qaeda trained at least 20,000 fighters in its training camps in Afghanistan before the United States and its allies ousted the Taliban regime. In the ensuing war on terror, some 2,000 al Qaeda fighters have been killed or captured, the survey said.

So I posted a comment saying:

Sounds like those guys were already terrorists...unless the "fighters" in Afghanistan "training camps" were there only to take sewing lessons and learn how to make fondue.

So I wouldn't quite say that "al Qaeda recruitment has jumped by 18,000."

In response, Fafblog has yanked the old post, and replaced it with this one (though the comments remain unchanged).

It starts out:

In an attempt to correct a rare mistyping (can the Medium Lobster mistype?) resulting in the substitution of "jumped by" for "jumped to,"...

Although for the life of me I don't see how "jumped to" 18,000 is any more accurate than "jumped by". The number apparently hasn't "jumped" anywhere. Maybe lobsters don't understand what the verb means.

ML then posts a new link to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, which is the source of the estimate. And then ML goes on to link to a BBC article which seemingly supports its claim that 18,000 is a number Al Qaeda has "swelled" to, though it is still citing the same survey by the IISS:

The BBC comments on the report, quoting it to the effect that al Qaeda has been "spurred on" by the Iraq war, swelling its ranks to the current terrifying number of 18,000. CNN quotes it to indicate that in fact American forces have successfully reduced al Qaeda numbers to a mere 18,000. The Medium Lobster leaves you to ponder this press koan in solitude.

Unlike CNN, the BBC story does not say what the estimate is based on. So here's a Financial Times article that verifies CNN's claim:

Basing its assessment on intelligence reports, the IISS's figure of 18,000 potential operatives is calculated by deducting the 2,000 suspects killed or captured since the September 11 2001 attacks from the estimated 20,000 recruits thought to have passed through al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001.

So that estimate is based on terrorists trained before the War on Terror. Now you could argue that those 18,000 are just as organized, or better organized, or better armed or funded than before the War on Terror, but it is incredibly disingenuous to cite this IISS report as an indication that Al Qaeda's ranks are "jumping" or "swelling" or "growing" or any other verb that indicates getting bigger.

So the "contradiction" between the BBC and CNN stories is not a Buddhist connundrum. Rather than ponder that, I'd prefer to listen to the sound of one lobster recanting.

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