Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Striving For Relevance: Is Usama Persona Non Grata?

Usama bin Laden released an audiotape last week with his usual fiery anti-American rhetoric. What else is new, except that this time the press, and possibly our own government, does not see this as a big deal.

"Since Zacarias Moussaoui was still learning how to fly, he wasn't No. 20 in the group, as your government has claimed," bin Laden said, referring to the man who will spend the rest of his life in the Supermax prison in Denver, Colorado.

Every news report I saw said that "an anonymous government official said bin laden was using this tape to become relevant once again." Well, isn't it a wonderful world for Usama that he shepherded an organization responsible for the deaths of over 3,000 people on American soil a little less than five years ago and he is now struggling for ink.

A couple of days later, I exchanged emails with John Loftus, a former Justice Department prosecutor, and now a commentator, most notably on WABC Radio for The John Batchelor Show. Loftus is always very responsive and has great insight into the War On Terror and this is what he wrote in response to my email:

"70% of bin Laden's core have been wiped out."

Okay, fine.

Yet I have read and heard from such notable terrorism experts as Peter Bergen and Yossef Bodansky that thousands of would-be jihadists trained in terrorist camps in Afghanistan in the years before 9/11 and have scattered throughout the world. So if we never really had a true count of how many trained in those camps, how can we definitively say what percentage of al-Qaeda have been killed or captured.

Loftus continues:

"He (bin Laden) is now a figurehead who loans his name out to guys like Zarqawi." Loftus referring to, of course, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq.

It appears to me that our government does not have an accurate account of this Zarqawi fellow. I have read that he fought against the U.S. in Afghanistan after 9/11 and lost a leg before returning to his native Jordan. Yet those reports have also been disputed.

The point being is that I really have a hard time swallowing that bin Laden is just a figurehead. The fact of the matter is that he has tremendous influence on many things going on in the world right now and there should be more emphasis placed on capturing or killing him. In addition, it seems as though our intelligence apparatus just can't get it right; 9/11, WMD in Iraq, anthrax attacks after 9/11, the whereabouts of Usama, etc. So I believe that minimizing bin Laden's importance is due to our inability to capture or kill him. Which I understand is no easy task. But it seems as though the trail for the terrorist mastermind is extremely cold. Think frozen tundra!

To underscore why bin Laden should be considered more relevant I will back this up:

For example, the war in Afghanistan that everyone seems to have forgotten about. According to an article in Sunday's New York Times' Magazine section the United States has increased its troop level from 19,000 to 23,000 over the last few months. The United Nations was supposed to take over security operations in the southern region of Afghanistan in the fall but that has been pushed back until the New Year. This due to the fact that Taliban and al-Qaeda forces have stepped up attacks since the start of spring and have been copying the effectiveness of the insurgency in Iraq by using improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Would we not be in Iraq if it were not for Usama? Not because Saddam Hussein was directly linked to 9/11, however. But the combination of the attacks of September 11th, 2001 along with the fact that our intelligence apparatus and that of other countries said Saddam had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) which put our national security at greater risk and elevated the urgency to respond.

We all know that the stockpiles of WMD were never found. Some, like Loftus, said they were moved out of Iraq prior to the war and into the Bequaa Valley in Syria. Loftus has said repeatedly that the reason the U.S. has not moved into Syria to uncover this stockpile of weapons is because we are so tied up in Iraq. I'll buy into that. Because we know that Saddam used WMD and what exactly did he do with the unused weapons. Under President Clinton the United State military struck at alleged WMD sites in 1998 but I doubt that those airstrikes eliminated all of Hussein's WMD. If they did I'm sure we would have been told about such a great success.

Also, I put no credibility into any international agency saying that Iraq was clean of WMD before or even after the invasion of Iraq. The reason being, is that the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) said Libya was clean until President Moammar Khadafy admitted to having WMD in 2004 and that he was ending his program. Gee, I guess the IAEA had that one wrong!

Usama for years tried to get America into a fight and was unable to do so for a variety of reasons during the Clinton Administration and the first eight months of the Bush Administration. Remember bin Laden fought against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s and following the former superpower's departure, bin Laden believed that the Soviets were a "paper tiger" and that the U.S. was not as strong as the Russians, so that made us beatable. Yet, now that he has dragged us into a fight....

According to the Department of Defense website 2,468 U.S. soldiers have been killed in action in Iraq, while 292 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, as of Tuesday.

The issue of illegal immigration has moved to the forefront after years of negligence. But why has the Bush Administration taken on such a touchy issue. The reason being is that the security of our nation's borders has taken on greater importance as a result of 9/11 because we need to know who is coming in and why.

Internationally speaking, Usama and his terrorist organization has its tentacles widespread. For example, according to a Reuters report Wednesday, fighting inside the capital city of Mogadishu has intensified. Islamist militiamen attacked early in the morning in northeastern Mogadishu, and seized several positions previously held by fighters loyal to an alliance of warlords who say they have banded together to fight terrorism. The United States views Somalia as a haven for terrorism. Somalia is a failed state and has had no real authority since the 1991 ouster of former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

What about the Sudan? Usama bin Laden was exiled from Sudan in 1996. However, his influence may still be strong in that country.

"I call on the mujahideen and their supporters in Sudan ... and the Arabian peninsula to prepare all that is necessary to wage a long-term war against the Crusaders in western Sudan," bin Laden said in a prior audiotape dated April 24.

What we see in Darfur is again Islamist militiamen, or the Janjaweed, killing the non-Arabs. The government of Sudan has provided arms and assistance and has even been involved in attacks with the Janjaweed. The conflict begun in February 2003 and the number of fatalities has been estimated from 50,000 to 450,000 with two million people being displaced from their homes. According to Reuters most non-governmental organizations use 400,000 as the death toll.

Meanwhile, the Sudanese government is resisting United Nations peacekeepers from going to the Darfur region.

The War on Terror, like all wars, has had success and failure. Capturing guys like Khalid Sheik Muhammad, the man who allegedly came up with the concept of a "planes operation" was a key win. Yet, some will say that we have not been attacked for nearly five years because "we are fighting them over there rather than here." Perhaps, but before 9/11 we were not attacked on our soil for eight years (the 1993 WTC attack) and we weren't fighting anyone anywhere.

Make no mistake I support both the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the point is I feel America is concerned with other issues and sees the threat of international terrorism as being remote.

Terrorists will always exist, I don't believe they can be completely wiped out. Especially since children are taught to kill Christians and Jews in schools throughout the Middle East. But I believe eliminating top leadership like bin Laden is important. The reason being is if America and her allies are successful in this war the terrorists will exist in the same way that Nazis now exist. That is they will become a "fringe element." I believe that the Nazis are no longer a real major concern because they do not and have not had a leader who can band them together and rile them up like Adolph Hitler did and there has not been someone of that ilk to replace him. Thank God for that. Usama is one of those "charismatic" leaders who are not replaced so easily. Of course he uses that charisma for evil but he is someone who can produce a groundswell of support. He also carries a bit of legend behind him. In many of the videos he is seen in he keeps a kalashnikov rifle by his side. The story goes that he took that rifle off a Soviet fighter after killing him while he was leading the mujahideen or "holy warriors" against the Russians in Afghanistan.

So removing a powerful figure like Usama is more than just symbolic. I feel it would be a major victory for the United States and her allies and crucial to our victory in the War on Terror.

1 comment:

John Loftus said...

Sean, we captured the training rosters for Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. That's how we know that 70% of the original corps have been captured or killed.

Zarqawi routinely flouts directives and policy annpuncements from Bin Laden. e.g., beheading, shia war, and arab casualties.