A survey proports to show that al-Qaeda has 18,000 fighters ready to strike at the West.
This figure is essentially arbitrary, being based on the estimates of how many al-Qaeda trainees passed through camps in Afghanistan before the fall of the Taliban. However, this figure can’t be accurately estimated. Furthermore, the figure of only 2,000 fighters killed or captured is far too low. Given the heavy losses inflicted upon al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters in the 2001 Operation Enduring Freedom and subsequent strikes, 10,000 might not be far off. Certainly a casualty rate of 10% seems very difficult to believe. Of course, since there isn’t exactly a census of al-Qaeda terrorists every year, the actual figure is anyone’s guess.
Of course, the report also insinuates that the war in Iraq has created more terrorist recruits for al-Qaeda. In the short term, this may be true. In the long term, Iraq is severely hurting al-Qaeda. Their resources are focused in Iraq rather than in the West, and they are facing heavily-armed US troops rather than civilians. Furthermore, as Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi himself noted, a democratic Iraq is al-Qaeda’s worst nightmare. They know that if the Iraqi people can build a successful and dynamic society in an area where fundamentalism and autocracy are the norm, it will shatter the self-imposed isolation that feeds terrorism. The seeds of reform have been planted in the Middle East, and once those seeds start to grow terrorism will wither. This is why Zarqawi and his fellow terrorists are trying so desperately to stop the process towards democracy in Iraq.
Iraq is the most important battlefield in the war on terrorism. The only way to prevent al-Qaeda from spreading further is to continue the process of draining the swamp of terrorism through a process of democratization. This war won’t be over tomorrow, or next year, or likely for some time. However, the only way we can lose is if we lose the will to see this conflict to its end.