Monday, October 01, 2007

"We Are So Desperate for Your Help"

Today's good news from Iraq (via comes in a letter from a former top commander of Al Qaida in Iraq. We say "former," because Abu Osama Al Tunisi became one with the cosmos last week, courtesy of a USAF F-16 and a smart bomb. Al Tunisi, the Al Qaida operative responsible for smuggling foreign fighters into Iraq, was killed during an airstrike on 25 September, as he met with associates in Musayib, south of Baghdad.

After his demise, the U.S. military released a recent letter, written by the terrorist leader, who served as a senior advisor to Abu Ayoub Al Masri, the leader of Al Qaida in Iraq. In his letter, al Tunisi warned of a threat to terrorist operations in Karkh, and sought guidance from Al Qaida leaders.

"We are so desperate for your help," the letter read.

Al Tunisi was the second, high-level Al Qaida leader killed in Iraq in less than a month. On 31 August, Abou Yaakoub Al Masri, was killed near Tarmiyah, north of Baghdad. He was believed responsible for the last high-profile bombing in Iraq, an attack that killed more than 500 members of a Kurdish religious sect in mid-August.

The quick demise of both Yaakoub Al Masri and Al Tunisi affirm that the the "shelf life" for Al Qaida emirs in Iraq has grown increasingly short. With their deaths, Abu Ayoub Al Masri has only two foreign-born operatives left in his inner circle; the two top-ranking Iraqis in the group were killed or captured long ago. Al Tunisi's letter reflects an Al Qaida affiliate that is under increasing pressure from the U.S. troop surge, which has occupied former terrorist strongholds, and eliminated top leaders.

While the surviving Al Masri remains at large, the continuing drop in terrorist attacks suggests an organization that is focused primarily on survival--a far cry from the massive bombing attacks that occurred almost daily before the troop surge. While Al Qaida and its Iraqi allies are still capable of sporadic bombings, the level of violence has declined substantially over the past three months, along with U.S. combat casualties and the death toll among Iraqi civilians. It's also worth noting that the September declined during the first half of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month that has (traditionally) seen a surge in attacks.

While these trends are very encouraging, they do not mean that the War in Iraq has been won. Sustaining the troops surge--as recommended by General Petraeus--will put even more pressure on Al Qaida in Iraq, and further weaken its operations. That, in turn, will buy more time for Iraqis to build their security forces and reach political agreements, allowing the U.S. to begin its planned troop reduction next year.

Ironically, the last, pleading missive of al Tunisi suggests that Al Qaida is caught in something of a quagmire--that dreaded term once reserved for U.S. involvement in Iraq. With the troop surge, the U.S. has been able to mount a sustained offensive against the terrorists, occupying (and holding) areas that were once Al Qaida strong holds. Constant pressure from U.S. and Iraqi forces not only denies Al Qaida an opportunity to rest, regroup and equip, it also boosts the confidence of the local Iraqis, who join in the fight against the terrorists, and provide more/better information on their activities. That, in turn, allows us to better target the bad guys.

While the Air Force deserves a kudo for dispatching al Tunisi to his awaiting virgins, the air strike was merely the culmination of a carefully planned operational strategy that has Al Qaida leaders squarely in the cross-hairs. Readers will note that we haven't heard much from Abu Ayoub Al Masri during his "career" as Al Qaida's local emir. That's hardly a surprise; it's a bit difficult to generate propaganda tapes when Task Force 145 is hot on your trail, and that in-bound F-16 has a small diameter bomb with your name on it.

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