Hearts and minds

March 23, 2007

Part of "the Surge" strategy is not only to clear an area of insurgents, but hold it so they can’t come back. (And why weren’t we doing that before? -ed. Don’t ask me.) The other part is to provide basic services, alongside the Iraqi security forces, to show residents of Baghdad that they don’t need to depend on the leeches and thugs of militias like the Mahdi Army. In this video, you see typical scenes from a joint medical clinic set up in Baghdad’s Sadr City.


Al-Qaeda flees Baghdad

January 16, 2007

Richard Miniter at Pajamas Media brings word that al-Qaeda in Iraq’s new commander, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, has given the order to his thugs to evacuate Baghdad ahead of the American reinforcements. Apparently, he’s a smart one, having received training at Soviet Special Forces schools:

In speaking with Pajamas Media the military intelligence officer supplied several new details of the al Qaeda retreat.

The apparent evacuation of Baghdad by al Qaeda forces comes from direct orders issued by al-Masri, the former soldier who took control of the Iraqi wing of al Qaeda following the June 2006 bombing death of Zarqawi.

Initially, the intelligence officer informed Pajamas, the Baghdad-based AQ fighters did not want to leave. Al-Masri had to send unequivocal orders for their retreat, adding that one of the lessons from the Fallujah campaign was that Americans have learned how to prevail in house-to-house fighting. Masri said that remaining in Baghdad was a ‘no-win situation’ for the terrorists.
“In more than ten years of reading al Qaeda intercepts, I’ve never seen language like this,” the intelligence officer said. Usually, al Qaeda communications are full of bravado and false confidence, he added.

I’m not sure if this is a tactical trap for the Americans, but I think we’re wise to stick with securing Baghdad.


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Turning points

January 11, 2007

"Turning point" is a cliche used by bad journalists when they want to sound more intelligent and observant than they really are. Each new day brings another turning-point, which the journalist dutifully points out to keep the readers wondering what will happen next — and thus anxious to buy the next day’s paper to find out.

Last night, however, it wasn’t a cliche. President Bush’s speech to the nation outlining a new strategy in Iraq –and what is required of the Iraqis– really does represent a turning-point: rather than drawing down forces in 2007 as hoped, the security situation in Baghdad and it environs is so bad that Mr. Bush has decided to commit over 20,000 fresh troops in a concerted effort with the Iraqi military to restore order and end the threats posed by the militias, al-Qaeda, and outside interference from Syria and Iran.

I had planned to write a long post analyzing the President’s speech and the Copperhead Democratic response, but I can’t put it better than Michael Barone already has:

What we’re seeing is a version of the good cop, bad cop routine. Bush is the good cop to Maliki, promising him support but reminding him it’s contingent on his own behavior. Durbin, representing the congressional leadership, is the bad cop, telling him he’d like to cut off support very soon and suggesting he may well do it later.

Bush noted that he is sending another carrier force to the Persian Gulf and addressed the nearby Sunni powers thusly:

"Countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and the gulf states need to understand that an American defeat in Iraq would create a new sanctuary for extremists and a strategic threat to their survival. These nations have a stake in a successful Iraq that is at peace with its neighbors, and they must step up their support for Iraq’s unity government."

This should be read in light of this interesting column by Edward Luttwak in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. Luttwak’s conclusion: "The Iraq War has indeed brought into existence a New Middle East, in which Arab Sunnis can no longer gleefully disregard American interests because they need help against the looming threat of Shiite supremacy, while in Iraq at the core of the Arab world, the Shia are allied with the U.S. What past imperial statesmen sought to achieve with much cunning and cynicism, the Bush administration has brought about accidentally. But the result is exactly the same." A pretty hopeful perspective from a usually gloomy observer.

To Iran and Syria, the president sent the following message:

"Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of extremist challenges. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We’ll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq."

This leads Michael Ledeen to ask, "Did we just declare war on Iran and Syria?"

Not only is this a turning-point, but it is also a last throw of the dice for the Bush Administration’s policy. If this effort doesn’t succeed in midwifing a stable, democratic Iraq, our adventure there must be judged an overall failure. Our goal was not just to overthrow Saddam, but to change the political dynamics of the Arab Islamic world at its very heart.

For everyone’s sake, I hope the President is right.

LINKS: More on Iran’s interference in Iraq and the disarming of militias at The Fourth Rail.


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Nailed another one

January 10, 2007

It looks like the US strike in Somalia sent a local al-Qaeda leader to Paradise for his virgins sooner than he expected:

United States forces launched a third consecutive day of air strikes in Somalia on Wednesday as a Somali government official said one of three al-Qaeda suspects targeted by the raids was believed to have been killed.

The official said the operation was understood to have killed an al-Qaeda militant thought to be behind the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 224 people in all.

"I have received a report from the American side chronicling the targets and list of damage. One of the items they were claiming was that Fazul Abdullah Mohammed is dead," said Abdirizak Hassan, the Somali president’s Chief of Staff.

Mohammed was reportedly killed during the first wave of attacks on Monday, when US AC-130 planes attacked targets around Ras Kamboni, in the south of the country, he said.

The suspect is thought to have been one of the key targets of the US strikes, along with Abu Taha al-Sudani, a Sudanese explosives expert believed to head al-Qaeda operations in East Africa, and Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a Kenyan.

It was not known whether either of the other two men had been killed, the official added.

We can only hope.

Naturally, the article has to end on a critical note:

But analysts said it remained an enormous challenge to establish the whereabouts of suspected al-Qaeda cells or to carry out an accurate strike against them, given the limitations of the AC-130.

"It’s akin to the heart of darkness, just shooting into the jungle," said Bob Baer, a former CIA agent. "At the end of the day, you are just making more enemies." —

There are three flaws in this assumption: first, it’s an assumption. There’s no indication that Mr. Baer (the model for George Clooney’s character in Syriana) actually knows the situation on the ground in Somalia, or just how the strikes were carried out. A known critic of Administration policy, he was probably sought out precisely for a negative quote.

Second, while I don’t know Mr. Baer’s specific intent when saying "you are just making more enemies," many critics who believe this also believe that the hatred of the Islamists for America and the West is somehow our fault: colonialism, racism, interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, support for Israel… pick your favorite. But this is nonsense. The various reasons they cite are no more than window-dressing to justify an aggressive ideology that offers non-Muslims three choices: a) become Muslim; b) submit to second-class status as dhimmis; c) or suffer attack and death. The "blame the victim" argument also fails to account for the thousands of Muslims killed by jihadi terrorism in Muslim countries or the many attacks launched in countries that have not supported the US "war on terror," such as Indonesia.

Finally, the "anything we do makes more" crowd ignores the decades-long growth of anti-Western, Islamist ideology and the thousands of people who have been raised and trained to hate America and the West long before we invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. From the foundation of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1920s and its descendents Hamas and al-Qaeda, through the millenarian Iranian Revolution in 1979 and the empowerment of Saudi Wahhabism with petrodollars to fund radical madrassas that have churned out thousands of would-be jihadis, radical Islam has been building as a threat for a long, long time. Their war with us does not depend on what we do: it is simply for who we are.

In the end, contrary to Mr. Baer and the apparent editorial point of the article’s author, the operations in Somalia are exactly what we should be doing: taking the war to the enemy to keep him off-balance. It’s what Mr. Bush has dubbed the  "forward strategy of freedom." And if we don’t pursue it our enemies will come after us again and again.

LINKS: More on this at The Captain’s Quarters, Gateway Pundit, and The Jawa Report.


One jihad by land, two by sea

July 3, 2006

Al-Qaeda is, if anything, a diverse and flexible organization. They’ve attacked us through the air on 9-11 and they’ve hit us on the land in the African embassy bombings of 1998. They’ve also struck at us by sea.
A Reuters article yesterday reminds us of this naval war with al-Qaeda and other jihadi groups:

"I don’t think there is any question that as we thwart their attacks and disrupt their operations on land, that we should expect them to turn to the sea," Vice Admiral Patrick M. Walsh, who is in charge of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, said in an interview.

"It is something that is an absolute concern and focus for us, and I will not rest easy in this job (until it is checked)," he said, speaking by telephone from Manama in Bahrain.

Walsh said al Qaeda, which is well known to have a maritime arm, was very adept at blending into the maritime environment.

"I don’t take the threat for granted at all, we have had attacks thwarted in Saudi Arabia on land, and to take any other approach to our operations would be irresponsible," said Walsh, who is also head of the Fifth Fleet.

He said al Qaeda had shown its capability a number of times in the past, with a series of high profile marine attacks, while many others had been foiled.

Walsh cited the attack on the war ship the USS Cole off Yemen in 2000 in which 17 U.S. sailors died, the attack on the oil tanker Limburg in 2002, again off Yemen, and a foiled attack on Iraq’s Basra oil terminal in 2004.

Later, Admiral Walsh talks about what he sees as al-Qaeda’s strategic threat:

Walsh said he was "very concerned" about the role al Qaeda had played in the energy sphere and its intention to disrupt global energy markets.

"It continues to be significant, and so I don’t think that we can ever sit back on this mission," he said.

He said al Qaeda’s stated intention to disrupt energy supplies was all the more worrying when one considered how finely balanced, in terms of supply-demand, energy markets were.

"There is absolutely no surplus in this industry at all, whether it’s in drilling, distribution or transportation and so any disruption of world energy reserves would have wide implications regardless of where it had taken place."

The Admiral touches on an important point: not only is the supply-demand curve slanted in favor of suppliers right now (hence our high gas prices), but the distribution of oil goes through several strategic "choke points." Not only is there the Straits of Hormuz (the entrance to the Persian Gulf), but also the Suez Canal, the Straits of Malacca between Indonesia and Malaysia, and the Bab-el-Mandab, which provides access to the Red Sea between Somalia and Yemen. (And for more on the growing jihadi threat in strategic Somalia, check these entries at the Counterterrorism blog here and here.)

Remember, al Qaeda doesn’t need a string of victories to inflict terror and economic damage on the West: just one good strike in any of these choke points could set off a worldwide economic panic as traffic is slowed and disrupted, just the thing terrorists want.We would probably respond by organizing convoys, but that would slow down distribution and lead to higher prices, too. And, of course, al Qaeda would switch to other areas.

Our best bet is the continued vigilance of the US and allied navies, and the Bush Administration’s determination to take the fight to the jihadis before they hit us again.