Monday, January 16, 2006

The NYT Gets it Wrong Again

The New York Times ran a picture on their website Saturday purporting to be a photo of the remains of a missile fired by a predator drone at poor Pakistani peasants by the CIA in a futile attempt to kill the al Qaeda second in command, al Zawahiri.

Unfortunately for what remains of the Times' credibility, they were either duped or they were complicit in a hoax. The munition in the photo, as is evident to anyone who looks at it, except, evidently, Times staffers, is obviously not a missile. It's much too bulky and heavy.

The American Thinker provides some background.

Was al-Zawahiri There?

Bill Roggio has some good analysis of the attack on al-Zawahiri and al Qaeda's strategy at ThreatsWatch.Org:

The fate of Ayman al-Zawahiri is still unknown after an airstrike in the Pakistani town of Damadola, near the Afghan border in the province of Bajaur. An Al-Arabiya source close to al-Qaeda states Zawahiri is still alive, and Pakistani intelligence sources claim he escaped the attack. American intelligence officials are still eager to see the results of the DNA tests, and are unusually optimistic on the possibility Zawahiri was indeed killed in the strike. The fact that a team was able to gather remains indicates a certain level of sophistication and coordination in the strike, as Bajaur is a hostile and remote environment unfriendly to American forces and the central Pakistani government.

The Washington Post states the strike was "based on timely intelligence about Zawahiri's whereabouts early Friday. Zawahiri had been under surveillance by the CIA for two weeks." And Pakistan is reported to have been intimately involved in the intelligence gathering and operation. The Daily Times reports "the attack was planned and executed by a combination of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officers in Pakistan and Pakistani officials. 'This would not have happened unless they had pretty precise information that the right target was at that location.'"

Riots have broken out in Bajaur, and two Non-Governmental Organization (NGOs) offices were attacked, and thirty riotors were detained. Pakistan's Information Minister condemned the attack and the U.S. ambassador has been summoned to explain the event. Based on Pakistan's permissiveness in the past to allows such strikes and its involvement in the Zawahiri attack, the summons is for domestic consumption only.

The strike against Zawahiri comes at a transitional stage of the war. There are reports al-Qaeda is reallocating resources from Iraq, which Zawahiri himself referred to as "the place for the greatest battle of Islam in this era." Their destination is reportedly Afghanistan. The Coalition is currently conducting operations during the winter months, and the Taliban has yet again vowed to step up attacks. Other evidence points to al-Qaeda expanding operations in Lebanon, with the end target being Israel.

Based on the importance that Zawahiri himself placed on Iraq, the shift of operation focus is curious. Zawahiri has described Afghanistan, along with Chechnya, Kashmir, and Bosnia and other theaters as the "far-flung regions of the Islamic world", and considers these areas as secondary in al Qaeda's plans for the formation of the Islamist Caliphate. Yet there is the distinct possibility a drawdown is occurring in Iraq.

The failure of al-Qaeda in Iraq to gain real traction with the Iraqi people may very well be the reason for this shift. There have been numerous cases of red-on-red fighting between al-Qaeda and the insurgency. Mohammed at Iraq the Model provides even further anecdotal evidence:

"Al-Qaeda is apparently being chased down and confronted by Iraqis in Anbar and Samarra according to a report from al-Sabah. Mohammed al-Ubaidi is a citizen of Anbar who took part in a battle against al-Qaeda fighters said that people were enraged by the attacks that kill civilians in Anbar and other provinces and therefore have decided to form squads from the residents to rid Anbar from the foreign terrorists. The reports mentions that several tribes' sheikhs had a meeting in the home of a sheikh of the Dulaim tribe where they pledged to fight al-Qaeda and throw them out of the province. There are also news that some 120 al-Qaeda members have already fled outside Iraq after a series of battles between their cells and the residents of Ramadi and other towns and suburbs of Anbar. According to the same report, similar measures are being taken by the residents in Samarra and have succeeded in forcing foreign terrorists out of their city."

al-Qaeda's operations have been impacted by the successful offensive this summer and fall in northern and western Iraq. Lt. Gen. John R. Vines states "al-Qaeda is increasingly in disarray and we have pursued, captured and killed a large number of them." And al-Qaeda recruiting cells continue to be rolled up in Europe. The latest round of arrests in Spain netted a senior operational leader and twenty of his cell members. These efforts, over time, place a strain on al-Qaeda in Iraq's ability to keep up a steady operational pace.

In his letter to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Zawahiri outlined al-Qaeda's plan for waging jihad in the heart of the Middle East:

The first stage: Expel the Americans from Iraq.

The second stage: Establish an Islamic authority or amirate, then develop it and support it until it achieves the level of a caliphate- over as much territory as you can to spread its power in Iraq, i.e., in Sunni areas, is in order to fill the void stemming from the departure of the Americans, immediately upon their exit and before un-Islamic forces attempt to fill this void, whether those whom the Americans will leave behind them, or those among the un-Islamic forces who will try to jump at taking power.

The third stage: Extend the jihad wave to the secular countries neighboring Iraq.

The fourth stage: It may coincide with what came before: the clash with Israel, because Israel was established only to challenge any new Islamic entity. This coincides with Saif al-Adel's strategy doucment. The timeframe laid out by al-Adel is specific, with "definitive victory" set for the year 2020.

Zawahiri's first and second stages have not been accomplished: the Americans have not been ejected from Iraq, and an Islamic Caliphate has not been set up within Iraq's border. There is no rump Islamic state in Iraq. The closest al-Qaeda came was during the summer of 2005, when they declared the Islamic Republics of Qaim and Haditha, but these regions were contested no-man's lands at best. Anbar province has been denied to al-Qaeda.

The obvious question is: why has al-Qaeda jumped their strategy planning, and bypassed the most crucial elements: U.S. defeat in Iraq and the establishment of Islamic states in Iraq? Does al-Qaeda actually believe they accomplished these goals? Or do they recognize the Iraq enterprise has failed and are cutting their losses.

Zawahiri is the pragmatist and strategic commander of al-Qaeda. His letter to Zarqawi, and Zarqawi's letter to Osama bin Laden provide a window into the way they view the state of current battles. You can see the need for urgency in their actions. If al-Qaeda withdrawal from Iraq is really in the works, Zawahiri's recent statements declaring U.S. defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan are likely cover for withdrawal.

al-Qaeda may believe it has a greater chance at achieving a victory against the West in Afghanistan. The United States is removing 4,000 troops from the Afghan theater, which are to be replaced by NATO forces. The Dutch are debating providing their alloted contingent of forces, which threatens the foreign policy of the European Union and NATO's commitment to Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda is likely trying to cleave the Afghanistan Coalition, and attacks such as the suicide strike against Canadian soldiers in Kandahar are designed to achieve such a split.

Perhaps al-Qaeda believes the buffer in the Tribal areas of Pakistan will provide it the protection needed to conduct a successful counteroffensive against Coalition forces. But many high-level al-Qaeda operatives and leaders have met their end in Pakistan. And the strike against Zawahiri, whether successful or not, demonstrates al-Qaeda is not free to operate without a response.

The British Guardian is making much of reports that we missed Zawahiri and killed only women and children. They are calling it a "botched attack." It is deeply tragic that innocent people were killed by our missiles, but there is a sentence buried in the Guardian's report that seems odd. The report stated that the dead were reported to include four children and at least two women. Yet most accounts of the attack said that there were believed to be about 18 people in the targeted houses. Who were the other twelve? The Guardian scarcely mentions them, but it would be interesting to find out.

The Worsening Crisis In Iran

Belmont Club posts an interesting discussion on the brewing crisis over Iran and what people who contemplate such matters are thinking about today. There are a number of interesting tidbits and anecdotes strewn among the analysis. Here are a few excerpts:

...the chances of an Israeli strike (over the near term) are slight, unless Tel Aviv receives clear, unambiguous evidence that Iran has--or is about to acquire--working nuclear weapons. The consequences of an Israeli attack would be monumental--for Israel, the U.S. and the entire region. An Israeli strike on Tehran's nuclear sites could well be followed by an Iranian strike on Israel's population centers, using a SHAHAB-3 missile carrying biological or chemical weapons. Assuming that an Iranian warhead gets through Israel's missile defenses (and inflicts heavy casualties), the Israelis would likely respond in kind, or up the ante and go nuclear. The pressure on an Israeli Prime Minister to respond to an Iranian missile attack would be overwhelming, and quite likely, irresistible.

Wretchard at Belmont Club cites an account from another blogger which, he avers, illustrates the "level of resolution" that results from our own forces being in contact on the ground.

We had captured a weapons cache in Afghani, a BIG one and as we piled the weapons up the next door neighbor tribal leader showed up and "told" me he was taking those weapons from the feuding tribe we just confiscated them from. Being surrounded by two infantry Platoons he had these two girlie men (no kidding, they were out of a very bad B movie) charge their AK's as an act to threaten us. I told my terp to translate to them "you just made a very bad mistake and you could have been killed " as my Marines drew in on them as they charged their weapons. So after detaining him and his two girlfriends we sat them a safe distance away from the pile of weapons on an adjacent hill but high enough for them to watch the fireworks show.

Ace of Spades reports on the deployment of the 122nd Fighter Wing to 'Southwest Asia'. Where could they mean? Southwest Asia? That's sorta between Iraq and Afghanistan, I guess:

Members of the Fort Wayne-based 122nd Fighter Wing are scheduled to leave for Southwest Asia about 2:30 a.m. Tuesday from the unit's headquarters on Ferguson Road. It represents the wing's largest single deployment since it was called to Chambley, France, in 1961 during the Berlin Crisis. This deployment is in support of ongoing operations in the U.S. Central Command Air Forces (CENTAF) area of responsibility, which includes Southwest Asia. The unit will deploy fighter pilots, as well as maintenance and support personnel.

My own guess is that the US -- and Israeli --policy towards Iran is constrained by the knowledge that the only lasting way to keep the Bomb from extremist Mullahs isn't an air strike, but regime change. If the objective is to keep Iran from obtaining weapons of mass destruction, air strikes, however effective, can only delay the process of acquisition....

And diplomacy will continue, not because it has any prospect of success, but from want of an alternative. Iran knows better than anyone that Israeli lacks the ability, and the US probably lacks the will, to mount a regime change. In this context diplomacy acquires a different significance. It's playing for time, hoping that the regime in Teheran will slip up somehow and provide an opportunity for effective action. That slip-up, if it occurs, can only be induced by taking Iran to the brink. The objective of diplomacy is probably to stress Iran to the max, such as by staging wargames on its margin, threatening to refer the matter to the UN Security Council (which means to the United States, which alone provides the teeth to the Security Council), etc, not in the expectation that Teheran will crack, but in the hope that exploitable fractures will occur.

Good stuff, although we're not sanguine about the chances of the tactic of pushing the mullahs over the brink actually working. It may, and we hope that it does, but there has to be a back-up plan. The world simply can't sit on its collective hands and let the madmen in Iran - men who have said that Israel would have a hard time destroying the Arab world with nuclear weapons but that one pre-emptive nuke will destroy Israel; men who have said that Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth; men who have promised that if they ever had nuclear weapons they'd use them against Israel; men who have turned Iran into the world's chief state sponsor of terrorism - the world cannot allow such men to have the weapons they lust after.

Tragically, though, most of the world, especially Europe, will be perfectly content to allow Iran to acquire weapons which they will almost surely use, either themselves or through terrorist proxies.

Maybe the Democrats have a plan as to what we should do.