Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the notorious headsman of Fallujah–and the man Osama bin Laden once referred to as “the prince of al Qaeda in Iraq”–was killed Wednesday.
By now we all know how. A few weeks ago, Iraqi civilians tipped police that Zarqawi was holed up in a safe-house near Baquba, about 40 miles north of Baghdad. Iraqi and American special-operations forces confirmed the reports. Military planners briefly considered a ground assault, but the possibility that a previously elusive Zarqawi might slip out the back door caused planners to draw up an air mission.
Over the past few days, combined elements of Iraqi policemen and the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry and 101st Airborne Divisions were moved-up as a quick reaction force, prepared to fight if an air attack only scattered those individuals targeted.
On Wednesday, just after 6:15 P.M. Iraq time (10:15 A.M. U.S. Eastern time), U.S. Air Force F-16s dropped two 500-pound precision-guided bombs on the targeted house. Zarqawi was home. The bombs struck, killing the Jordanian-born terrorist and several of his chief lieutenants.
It would be understating the impact of Zarqawi’s death to say it is a major blow to al Qaeda in Iraq. Combined with the recent thwarting of a terrorist plot in Canada, as well as unreported victories elsewhere in the world, al Qaeda globally is on the ropes.
In Iraq, Coalition forces are already acting on newly gleaned intelligence resulting from the attack. Early reports are that some 17 raids have been launched, and significant intelligence is being developed from each.
Though I’ve spoken briefly with some of those directly involved in the raids, most are far too busy to comment. One senior infantry commander, in fact, told me early Thursday, “Can’t talk. As you can imagine, we are taking advantage of developments.”
That said, experts from Baghdad to Washington to Quantico, Virginia (where U.S. Marine officers train) to Coronado, California (home of the U.S. Navy SEALs) tell National Review Online that the immediate tactical and the long-term strategic implications are enormous, and newly developed intelligence is being aggressively acted on.
Here’s what they’re saying
Nimrod Raphaeli is a senior analyst with the Middle East Research Institute (MEMRI) in Washington, D.C. He says:
There is tremendous change in the attitudes of the Iraqi people with regard to the United States. For the first time they really believe the U.S. is committed to bringing order to Iraq. The pursuit and killing of Zarqawi is evidence of its commitment.
Col. Jeff Bearor (U.S. Marine Corps, ret.) is a former operations officer with the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center. He is also a former “Force Protection” officer for the U.S. Fifth Fleet and a former senior-operations planner for the U.S. Central Command. Commenting from Quantico, Virginia, Bearor says:
Zarqawi’s death will not stop the foreign terrorists in Iraq, but it is a major blow to them for several reasons that may not be readily apparent to all.
As far as the major media was concerned, Zarqawi was the voice of Al Qaeda in Iraq and the terrorists. The next video or audio tape that surfaces from AQI will come from someone most people, to include potential terrorists, have never heard of. What kind of impact will that tape have on Al Qaeda’s recruiting and other efforts? Not much I would expect. Wannabe terrorists have to ask themselves, ‘If they can get Zarqawi, what chance do I have?’ Not all terrorists are suicidal.
Add this blow to AQI to the recent victory by our Canadian friends in rolling up that terror cell up north. Add in all those smaller war-on-terror successes in East and West Africa, South and Southeast Asia, Central and South America that never get reported and no one hears about because they are part of ongoing, active operations. There is a bottom line here: There are more of us, we have more resources, and for the majority of Americans and our allies, more resolve than the terrorists. It’s a matter of time and will.
There are other effects when a leader in an organization like this goes down. The lesser tiers of the terrorist leadership have to start talking. They will use any number of sophisticated and unsophisticated means to do that talking. Some of them will do what is easy — get on the phones and cell phones. They’ll have to move to meet and determine their next steps. All that talk and all that movement generates what’s called ‘actionable intelligence.’ It puts more and more of them in our crosshairs.
There are hundreds of very smart Marine Corporals, Army Specialists, Air Force and Navy intelligence types and OGA — other government agencies, as military guys call the intelligence agencies — folks who do nothing but ‘connect the intel dots’ from Iraq concerning Al Qaeda. It’s like putting together puzzles where the shapes of the pieces change everyday. But the more puzzle pieces available the quicker the picture emerges. More communication and more movement by the bad-guys means more puzzle pieces to arrange and re-arrange.
One of these very smart intelligence analysts, usually in his or her early 20’s, sees the pattern emerge. They use very sophisticated software tools to share that knowledge between them. Much of that work is done here in the states and networked around the world. Then BINGO!–The picture emerges and some bad guy eats a JDAM [Joint Direct Attack Munition or smart bomb] or gets to meet Mr. Delta and his friends [commandos] in a very close up, personal, and deadly way.
Also, more than one terrorist wants to take Zarqawi’s place as leader. What happens to the bozos that get shunted aside? Members of terrorist organizations exhibit many of the same foibles as members of other criminal organizations, like jealousy and greed. One or more of them will turn. For the disgruntled terrorist, who is tired of being chased by U.S. Marines, soldiers, Apache gunships, Predator Drones, and F-15s – that one or five-million dollar bounty starts to look pretty good.
Commander Mark Divine (U.S. Navy SEALs, Reserve) has overseen special operations in Iraq — working with both SEALs and Marines — and he is the president of NavySEALs.com. Speaking from the Naval Amphibious Base at Coronado, California, Divine says:
The death of Zarqawi will give the Iraqis some hope, because he was so effective and brutal in terms of at aiding and organizing the insurgency. The U.S. should and will seize the initiative and make a full court press to try and isolate, and take out remaining known AQI members as soon as possible. If not, the situation would continue unchanged under a new leader. They would grow like weeds. The other problem is that the insurgency has taken on a much more civil-war face with killing along purely ethnic lines. This will not ebb until the new Iraq government can assert total control over the country. Long term, the death of Zarqawi will have negligible impact on the ‘long war’ as this is about Jihad, and the U.S., as a nation, is just beginning to wake up to that reality.
Lt. Colonel Ed Loomis (U.S. Army) is with the 101st Airborne (Air Assault) Division in Tikrit. He says:
The mood of members of our task force [Task Force Band of Brothers] has been very positive since the public announcement of the successful operation this morning, though with the realization that work remains to be done to stop terrorists and continue training our partners in the Iraqi security forces.
Maj. Joseph Todd Breasseale (U.S. Army) is with Multi-National Corps-Iraq in Baghdad. He says:
While this is a significant blow to AQI, its members will undoubtedly continue to try to terrorize the Iraqi people. Iraqi and Coalition forces will continue our deliberate, methodical operations in order to hunt down and capture — or kill — other Al Qaeda members in Iraq. These operations will continue to be successful with the support and cooperation of the Iraqi people and our allies around the region.
While we do not know who might possibly replace Zarqawi, we are tracking several other very senior Al Qaeda leaders and we will continue to kill or capture them, too.
Lt. Col. Michael J. Negard (U.S. Army) is with Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq in Baghdad. He says.
The systems that keep the network functioning such as funding, intelligence, and logistics are likely weakened and therefore will be easier to compromise. So although his loss is significant, the increased potential for the Iraqis and coalition to gain more intelligence on the network is the real victory.
If a deputy stands up to replace Zarqawi, he will likely meet the same fate because Iraqis have shown they will not tolerate it.
Lt. General John Bruce Blount (U.S. Army, ret.) is former chief of staff of Allied Forces Southern Europe. Speaking from his home in Columbia, S.C. he says:
Al Qaeda in Iraq is not built like the U.S. Army or the Marine Corps: It is an ad hoc organization. They are going to have some real trouble getting reorganized. Zarqawi was probably the only guy who could coordinate with Osama bin Laden.
Are they going to quit? No. Will car bombings and the like continue? Yes.
But this is particularly important for the Iraqis. This is a huge confidence builder for them. They see that we Americans do what we say we are going to do, and it is a huge blow to Al Qaeda, globally.
In other news from Iraq, soon after the announcement of Zarqawi’s death, the Iraqi parliament named Army General Abdel Qader Jassim, a Sunni, to the post of defense minister. Shiite Jawad al-Bolani was named to the post of Interior Minister (which oversees police forces). It’s another step forward in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s vow, last month, to quash the insurgency in Iraq.
—A former U.S. Marine infantry leader, W. Thomas Smith Jr. writes about military issues and has covered conflict in the Balkans and on the West Bank. He is the author of five books, and his articles appear in a variety of publications.