Take it for what this is — a single-sourced account of the current state of al-Qaida. But. If this Newsweek story is correct, al-Qaida in Pakistan is pretty much bankrupt and it’s decimated as a functional organization.

When Newsweek interviewed Hanif (his nom de guerre) for our Sept. 13, 2010, cover story, “Inside Al Qaeda,” he estimated that the group had roughly 130 Arabs in Waziristan, along with dozens more Chechens, Turks, Tajiks, even recruits from Western Europe. But little more than a year later, he estimates there are no more than 40 to 60 al Qaeda operatives of any nationality on either side of the border. “Al Qaeda was once full of great jihadis, but no one is active and planning opera-tions anymore,” he complains. “Those who remain are just trying to survive.”

Hanif, incidentally, is a 17-year old Afghan whom Newsweek says is AQ. According to his uncle, cash that used to go to al-Qaida is going to organizations that support the Arab Spring. I can’t decide if that’s logical or too good to be true. But with reduced reach and persistent drone hunts, al-Qaida doesn’t have much value to add to the organizations that used to shelter and amplify it. #downwardspiral

On the other hand: Bill Roggio says al-Q had the pull to consolidate Pakistani militants; but the Washington Post says that was an Afghan Taliban initiative. Just saying.

Ask yourself these questions. How intrinsically dangerous are these 40 to 60 people? Are they capable of acquiring, assembling and/or detonating a weapon of mass destruction? Or are they super-dangerous because we’re spending tons of money to fight dangerous people? Can we get off this hamster wheel?

I sympathize with the position that if we’re thisclose from wiping out al-Qaida in Pakistan, then let’s finish the job. But a) I don’t know how to know when the job is finished; nor do I know b) how to spool down the war afterwards; or c) how to dismantle the security state built up after 9/11 after the war is functionally won. (I guess after Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula joins its Pakistan-based comrades?) Answers, please. A global war against 60 Hanifs plus Zawahiri is an absurdity.