Alone And On The Run

StrategyPage notes that we’ve utterly smashed Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi’s operations in Iraq:

Without much fanfare or publicity, American and British commandoes have taken apart al Qaeda’s operation in Iraq. About the only non-Iraqi al Qaeda leader left in Iraq is military leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi, a Jordanian. In the last few months, American commandoes nearly caught Zarqawi at least three times. On April 16th and 25th, raids killed and captured over twenty al Qaeda members. Interrogations of the captured men indicated that Zarqawi was in the area. Also captured, before it showed up on an al Qaeda web site, was a video of Zarqawi, holding an American M249 light machinegun. Several of these have been lost, usually from vehicles hit by roadside bombs, and abandoned by their crews. In the video, Zarqawi pleaded for Iraqi Sunni Arabs to support him and not, as more and more Sunni Arabs are doing, the democratically elected government. Zarqawi believes, as does al Qaeda, that democracy is un-Islamic. Only God, through self-selected clerics, can run a country…

The Task Force has been so successful that, except for Zarqawi, there are no more foreigners (Saudis, Jordanians, etc) in the Iraqi al Qaeda leadership. It’s all Iraqis, and these guys are proving just as vulnerable to informers as the foreigners (who stood out because of their accent and body language) were. Most Sunni Arabs are tired of all the violence, and are backing the government by passing on (and getting paid for) tips on where Zarqawi and his crew are hiding out.

TF 145 almost got Zarqawi last February, and in the last six months have been hammering al Qaeda, and it’s Sunni Arab supporters heavily. There are still several well armed gangs and tribal militias in the “Sunni Triangle” of central Iraq, and some of these have been persuaded to make peace with the government in order to avoid a visit from TF 145. Iraqis are big fans of American action movies. And they note that a visit from TF 145 is just like the movies, except for the real bullets, blood and dead bodies. So far, two dozen senior al Qaeda leaders have been killed or (mostly) captured, while about 200 al Qaeda leaders, who have had direct contact with Zarqawi, have been taken as well.

For all the talk about how Iraq is a haven for terrorism, this is seriously bad news for al-Qaeda. What would happen to the US military if we lost a significant fraction of our senior NCOs? That’ s precisely what’s happening in Iraq – the waves of foreign fighters that went into the country ended up captured or killed by US, coalition, and Iraqi forces. If you’re an al-Qaeda terrorist, there’s a very strong chance that going to Iraq is the single most deadly mistake you could make. Al-Qaeda’s resources are finite, and the more resources they devote to Iraq, the fewer they can devote elsewhere. Every Qaeda cell that fights in Iraq is a Qaeda cell that can’t fight elsewhere. Every dollar that goes to Iraq is a dollar that can’t be used to plan terrorist attacks in the West.

It’s no wonder that al-Qaeda has appeared to shift its strategy and has refocused its efforts in Afghanistan and elsewhere – their grandiose plans to evict the US and create another model Islamic state has clearly failed. Al-Zarqawi’s plan to set off an Iraq Civil War hasn’t worked – the new Iraqi government is led by a figure that’s far less divisive than the inept al-Jafaari and Ayatollah Sistani has now publicly supported the disarmament of sectarian militias. Al-Qaeda simply cannot win in Iraq at this point unless the US pulls out, and even then the best they can hope for is to carve out a small section of Iraq.

All this is due to the increasing effectiveness of US, coalition, and Iraqi troops. Unlike the terrorists, our soldiers are trained, professional, and adaptive. We’re armed with not only the latest technology, but the tactics to maximize our technological effectiveness. Even in ambushes, our military force is overwhelming. The only way that al-Qaeda can score against us is through the use of tactics like IEDs, and even those are becoming less and less effective as we learn to deal with the threat. We’re getting better intelligence, acting on that intelligence faster than ever, and using overwhelming and precise force to keep al-Qaeda in Iraq continually on the defensive.

For al-Zarqawi himself, it’s only a matter of time before the Sword of Damocles falls on his head – and when it does, so too will al-Qaeda’s plans for victory in Iraq.

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