John Hinderaker at Powerline and Joe Malchow at Dartblog saw this one first, but I can't resist the temptation to chime in. Today's edition of The New York Times contains an article that somehow reaches a new low of duplicity with our enemies. In case you missed it, Timesman C.J. Chivers actually produced an article defending Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's apparent incompetence with a U.S.-made weapon in recently-discovered outtakes from the terror leader's newest propaganda video.
Earlier this week, coaliton officials in Baghdad screened the outtakes during a media briefing, taking obvious delight as Zarqawi fumbled with a Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW), used by American military forces. At one point in the sequence, the gun jams, and the terror leader is unable to clear it, requiring the assistance of another terrorist. The second insurgent simply pulls back on the on the bolt, standard procedure for inserting the first round into the chamber of an automatic weapon, or clearing a jammed round.
But that's understandable, according to Chivers. He interviews a pair of former military officers who caution against reading too much into the mistake. A third officer (still on active duty, speaking anonmyously) observes that Zarqawi can't be expected to be proficient with U.S. weapons, since most of the automatic and semi-automatic rifles used by terrorists are of "simpler" Soviet design. Chivers also notes that U.S. soldiers and Marines who use the SAW undergo "many days of training" to achieve basic proficiency with the weapon.
Excuse me, Mr. Chivers, but Zarqawi's obvious inepitude isn't even a matter of basic proficiency. Pulling back on the We talking Weapons Fundamentals 101, something that ranks right up there with "Never Point a Loaded Weapon at Someone Else" (which, by the way, Zarqawi also managed in his little outtake). The first remedy for a jam in any type of machine gun or infantry weapon is to pull back on the bolt, and clear the chamber.
If I were actually assessing Zarqawi's proficiency with the weapon, I'd have to rate him as a total incompetent; prior to the jam, we see the terrorist leader cradling the SAW in arms like Rambo, spraying rounds at random. Another lesson from Weapons 101 teaches that fire is more effective when you actually aim the weapon, by using the sight. "Spray and pray" is not an effective technique for hitting the target.
To his credit, Chivers did manage to interview--of all people--a college professor, who pointed out the propaganda value of embarassing Zarqawi. Afterall, the reason Zarqawi made the video in the first place was depict himself as a skilled and determined leader of Al-Qaida in Iraq. The tape was clearly based on similar efforts from Zarqawi's boss, Osama bin Laden, right down to the weapons sequence. However, unlike Zarqawi, bin Laden seems to have some idea of how to use an automatic weapon. In one of his most-repeated video bits, we see bin Laden firing an AK-47 from a seated position, and actually using the weapon's sight.
One of Chivers's sources claim that even the embarassing outtake could aid Zarqawi, since it depicts the terror leader as well-fed and equipped. I'd say the opposite is also true, showing a man who is content to let others do the fighting (and dying) for him. Contrary to the Times assertions, the images in the outtake are embarassing, and that's exactly why Zarqawi excluded them from his "finished" product.
I'd love to find out if the reporter called several former military men and cherry picked the quotes or if the first three he called all said the same thing: the SAW is very difficult.
Anyone want to put odds on this?
Anything's possible, and there's certainly a "theme" to this article, namely that we shouldn't exaggerate Zarqawi's obvious difficulty in handling this weapon.
I'm ex-Air Force, so my knowledge of infantry weapons is limited. But it's clear that Zarqawi was trying to demonstrate his prowress by featuring the weapon in the video, and it's clear his skills (in that dept) are lacking.
And, as I pointed out in the blog, Zarqawi's "performance" is not a matter of being an expert, it's a matter of basic skills that anyone with any degree of weapons proficiency should be able to accomplish--such as clearing a jam. That's an issue that the NYT carefully avoids in its article.
If it's no big deal, then why did his media team edit that part out?
You see, even his media handlers realized it would not put him in a good light.
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