For a blogger who focuses on military and intelligence issues, there was no worse time to be on the road--and without my trusty laptop--that yesterday, when the world learned that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had been "terminated" by U.S. and coalition military forces.
But there is sweet justice in knowing that Iraq's most nortorious terrorist is dead, and better yet, he was actually alive when U.S. and Polish military personnel arrived on the scene. According to some press reports, Zarqawi actually tried to climb off his stretcher when he realized he was in coalition hands, then died a short time later. It's actually a bit of a shame that Zarqawi wasn't in better shape, and might have tried to engage those Task Force 145 operators who were watching from across the street. But, after watching Zarqawi's famous "SAW" video, we know it wouldn't be been a fair fight.
With Zarqawi now roasting on his own special spit, the MSM (and its various "experts") are already downplaying the significance of his demise. True, Zarqawi wasn't the only terrorist leader in Iraq--only the most famous; the man who literally put a face on the murdering savages who have killed hundreds of U.S. troops, and thousands of Iraqi civilians. If you believe Richard Clark, Zarqawi and his minions represent only about 5% of the "insurgency," but such statements ignore an obvious fact--Al Qaida in Iraq was responsible for some of the most spectacular attacks and brutal acts perpetuated by the terrorists, including the bombing of the U.N. complex in Baghdad, and the beheading deaths of several western hostages, including American businessman Nicholas Berg.
At this point, the focus ought to be on the spooks and troops who arranged the meeting between Zarqawi and his maker. But, alas, too much talk of a "successful" operation might translate into higher poll numbers for George Bush, so the pictures of Zarqawi's battered body must be "balanced" by John Kerry and John Murtha declaring "mission complete," and demanding the withdrawal of U.S. troops by the end of the year. It's tantamount to proclaiming victory on June 7, 1944. But, it's part-and-parcel of what passes for national security policy in most quarters of the Democratic Party. Somewhere, Harry Truman and Henry "Spook" Jackson are spinning in their graves.
But rather that focus on the nay-sayers, I'll offer one more tip of the hat to the young men and women responsible for finding and eliminating Zarqawi. Ironically, I spent part of the day Thursday in their company, as part of a group touring an Air Force DCGS site. I've written about DCGS before; it's the ground site where images and other data from various airbreather platforms (aircraft and UAVs) is analyzed, exploited, and forwarded to the operators and in the skies.
Sites like the one I visited play an important role in the War on Terror, providing real-time support to troops in harm's way. I was told (unofficially) the site had played a minor role in monitoring Zarqawi's final hideout. "There wasn't much to see," one officer told me. "We kept an eye on the house, to make sure he didn't leave." With confirmation that Zarqawi was in the house, U.S. special forces, Iraqi security units and Air Force F-16s did the rest. The Iraqis quietly cordoned off the area; SOF troops took up positions across the street from the Al-Qaida hideout, and at the appointed moment, the F-16s dropped two 500-lb bombs. Inside the DGS facility on Thursday morning, the war had already moved on. Young officers, NCOs and airmen were monitoring other missions on the war zone. But on a video monitor inside their operations center, Fox News Channel was re-playing the F-16 video from the night before, a mission that they had played a role in.
There wasn't any cheering or outward celebration in the ops center that morning--just professionals doing their job, and doing it exceptionally well. As we watched missions unfold, our escort officer pointed to the computer terminal of an Air Force lieutenant who was probably in his mid-20s. Watching the feeds from various surveillance platforms, the lieutenant (in turn) orchestrated his team while relaying data to other intel nodes and operational customers via a series of secure chat rooms. By my count, the lieutenant was monitoring at least a dozen chat rooms, connecting the front lines to ops centers and intel facilities around the world. "I don't think I could do that," whispered our escort officer, as he watched the lieutenant work.
I don't think I could, either. And ditto for the work done by the intel troops on the ground, the SOF operators on the streets of Baghdad, and the F-16 pilots who delivered Zarqawi's coup de grace. Military and intelligence service is a young person's game, and we are fortunate to have such able men and women defending our freedom, both in Iraq and in those DGS trailers where critical information is gathered and disseminated. Our country and the people of Iraq--no, make that free people everywhere--owe them a debt of gratitude. Most of them would probably settle for a simple "thank you."