…as in 4000 dead terrorists according to an audiotape from the current leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. That’s the approximate number of foreign jihadis who have been killed in Iraq since the beginning of the war — and that’s probably on the low side of the spectrum.
Even al-Qaeda does not have finite resources. It takes money, time, and effort to train someone to become an effective terrorist — and the more resources that are spend in Iraq the fewer resources that can be freed for operations elsewhere, such as the United States or Europe. 4,000 dead terrorists means that there are 4,000 fewer trained terrorists out there who would otherwise be plotting operations worldwide.
That’s why the whole idea of Iraq being a training ground for terrorism due to the war never struck me as particularly convincing. It’s hard to train an effective military cadre when the leaders of that cadre keep getting blown up by US bombs. The most dangerous job in the world seems to be an al-Qaeda leader in Iraq right now — pretty much all of al-Zarqawi’s inner circle have been killed or captured. Even al-Zarqawi himself has been killed.
Iraq is a training ground, but it is a training ground for us in the art of counterinsurgency, nation-building, and 21st Century warfare. Al-Qaeda’s losing more resources in Iraq while we’re developing a military that is better equipped and trained to deal with the sort of situations that we’ll be seeing in future military conflicts for decades to come. Al-Qaeda may believe that asymmetric warfare is the wave of the future, but even with their advantages the deck remains so far stacked against them that the only way they can win is not on the battlefield, but through manipulating public opinion against our forces.