Remember al Qaeda? You know, the ones who took out the USS Cole, took down the World Trade Center and the ones who have a leader named Osama bin Laden. The ones we supposedly had “on the run” in Afghanistan. Well, they’re back (although they never really “left”), and are back with a vengeance.
Today’s New York Times has an article about the recent attacks on the US helicopters in Iraq. The article mentions a “carefully planned strategy” to focus on aircraft and documents which are purported to have been drafted by al Qaeda. At the same time, a CNN article from earlier this week references an “apparent al Qaeda video” posted on Islamic web sites that shows careful and meticulous planning for an attack on US and Afghan forces at a checkpoint in Afghanistan.
With respect to the planning that went into the effort to target and attack US helicopters in Iraq, Maj. Gen. James E. Simmons, a deputy commander of the American-led multinational force in Iraq and an Army aviator, had the following to say:
“We are engaged with a thinking enemy,” he added. “This enemy understands based on the reporting and everything else that we are in the process of executing the prime minister’s new plan for the security of Baghdad. And they understand the strategic implications of shooting down an aircraft.”
Too bad the same can’t be said for those who got the US and our troops into this disaster to begin with.
Antiaircraft attacks are up tremendously. More attacks have happened since late January than for all of 2006. A variety of weapons have been used – machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, surface to air missiles, etc. The documents recovered indicate that al Qaeda had been studying flight patterns in certain areas as part of the planning.
The video referenced in the CNN article talks about planning, reconnaissance, and the purported carrying out of an attack on a NATO post last year by upwards of 150 fighters. While the authenticity of the video was not yet confirmed (possibly because of the embarrassment that its authenticity would cause), the following passage from the article is worth pointing out:
The video is significant, said CNN Senior Arab Affairs Editor Octavia Nasr, because it is largely in Arabic -- the language of al Qaeda -- with only comments from local villagers in other languages.
While we are on the subject of al Qaeda, it is worth pointing out a few things while the “let’s kill Iran” drum keeps beating. For starters, both Cheney and Porter Goss have been saying since 2005 that bin Laden is presumed to be in Pakistan. During late 2006, John Negroponte basically accused Pakistan of not doing its part to crack down on al Qaeda and Taliban forces who were being allowed to cross in and out of Pakistan in order to plan and launch attacks against US forces in Afghanistan. Not to be outdone, an article in the Toronto Star from last December quoted an ultimatum to Pakistan with respect to the Taliban and al Qaeda:
"The sanctuary that Pakistan offers to the Taliban and the support they offer are both critical to the more robust nature of the insurgency this year, and its continued success," said Larry Goodson, who heads the U.S. Army War College's department of national security and strategy.
And an independent Canadian military analyst, Sunil Ram, says "an endless flow of Taliban is being generated by an underground spring in Pakistan," adding the insurgents' buildup of weapons will lead to a massive spring offensive against Canadian and other NATO troops unless action is taken soon.
What about the Sunni al Qaeda attacks on helicopters? We all remember the threat made to Cheney by Saudi King Abdullah last year that Saudi Arabia would be “forced to” back the Sunnis (who, by the way, have committed most of the attacks on US forces) if the US were to withdraw from Iraq. We also remember page 29 of the Iraq Study Group report (warning: .pdf) that indicated the following:
Funding for the Sunni insurgency comes from private individuals within Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, even as those governments help facilitate U.S. military operations in Iraq by providing basing and overflight rights and by cooperating on intelligence issues.
And of course, there was the report that the funding was going for weapons including shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles.
Sounds like a lot of thinking and planning going on with respect to targeting and killing our troops. But it is going on (1) by Sunnis, (2) in Pakistan, (3) by the Taliban, and (4) funded by wealthy Saudis without the government cracking down. Hmmmmm....somehow I don’t see the word “Iran” or “Shiite” in there at all.
What about the planning and thinking going on from the US top brass? Sadly, that has been lacking since the very beginning. And it isn’t like many alarms didn’t go off immediately. In late 2003, the very conservative (to say the least) Washington Times ran an article titled US rushed post-Saddam planning, which cited a State Department report to the Joint Chiefs of Staff that indicated:
Weapons of mass destruction (WMD) elimination and exploitation planning efforts did not occur early enough in the process to allow CentCom to effectively execute the mission. The extent of the planning required was underestimated. Insufficient U.S. government assets existed to accomplish the mission.
WMD elimination/exploitation on a large scale was a new mission area. Division of responsibility for planning and execution was not clear. As a result planning occurred on an ad hoc basis and late in the process. Additionally, there were insufficient assets available to accomplish the mission. Existing assets were tasked to perform multiple, competing missions
A Congressional Budget Office report issued that same week raised concerns about the cost, feasibility and sustainability of an occupation in Iraq from a troop level standpoint. A State Department memorandum from February 2003 (warning: .pdf) indicated that there could be “serious planning gaps for post-conflict public security and humanitarian assistance”. The memo went on to indicate that these issues were also raised with “top CentCom officials”.
Just this past week, original Iraq war plan documents were declassified which projected only 5,000 troops in Iraq by December 2006. While we think this is scary but laughable, it was called “completely unrealistic” and “delusional” by the Executive Director of the National Security Archives:
"Completely unrealistic assumptions about a post-Saddam Iraq permeate these war plans," said National Security Archive Executive Director Thomas Blanton. "First, they assumed that a provisional government would be in place by 'D-Day', then that the Iraqis would stay in their garrisons and be reliable partners, and finally that the post-hostilities phase would be a matter of mere 'months'. All of these were delusions."
I will say, you gotta hand it to the Decider – he did get something right. When he signed the Defense Bill in mid 2004, he had tremendous foresight:
Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.
Maybe a little planning and thinking would have done us good.