September 16, 2004

STRATEGYPAGE takes a three-year look back at the war:

After three years of the war on terror, the lack of a conventional "front line" or large battles, has made it difficult to easily determine who is winning. But a little effort reveals battles won and lost, and who is occupying what territory. Three years ago, al Qaeda had most of Afghanistan available for training camps and other facilities. There was even a "forged documents office" that operated openly in Kabul. Al Qaeda, or related organizations, operated extensively in over fifty countries, especially places like Indonesia, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Chechnya, Iraq and Western Europe. Over 70,000 people were actively involved in planning and carrying out attacks. And the number of attacks against American targets grew during the 1990s, starting with a bombing of the World Trade Center in New York in 1993. But al Qaeda was handled as a criminal matter until September 11, 2001. After that, it was war.

In three years, al Qaeda has been driven out of most of its sanctuaries. Initially, al Qaeda was very popular among Moslems, and the slaughter of thousands of infidels (non-Moslems) on September 11, 2001, caused spontaneous celebrations throughout the Moslem world. That celebratory mood has been slowly changing, as more and more Moslems see al Qaeda for what it really is. After the slaughter of children in southern Russia earlier this month, the Moslem media finally moved broadly against al Qaeda and its terror tactics. This is significant, for Islamic radical terrorists are nothing new in the Islamic world. There have been several outbreaks in the last few centuries. Such violence can be defeated, and always is. One of the key factors in defeating these outbreaks is the local media turning against the radicals. . . .

The terrorists have been forced to make their attacks in out-of-the-way places. With thousands of similar targets world wide, and hundreds of thousands of eager young men and women willing to join their cause, al Qaeda has been able to accomplish little.

A "forged documents office," eh? And they want to destabilize U.S. elections. . . ? Hmm. Naw, couldn't be.

There's also this summary, somewhat more mixed, of what is going on in Iraq at the moment. There's also more on Iraq in this post from yesterday. And David Warren has thoughts on the strategy in Fallujah:

The Americans have made one big mistake since entering Iraq. It was to make local peace deals in Fallujah, and elsewhere, which left the fox in charge of the hens.

The idea was not, however, as stupid as it now looks. It was a risk: that if you put a few old Saddamite officers, and tribal leaders with lapsed Saddamite connexions -- the ones not currently wanted for war crimes -- in charge of a town, they will know how to restore order. They will prevent it from becoming a staging area for terrorist hits elsewhere, because if that happened the Marines would be back. And psychologically, one is likely to earn the gratitude of your erstwhile enemy, if you recruit him when he is expecting to be shot.

The risk may have been worth taking, in hindsight, for what the U.S. learned from it. We now know the policy backfired badly. The territories put off-limits to U.S. and allied patrol became terror havens immediately, as the local Jihadis came out of hiding to celebrate an "American defeat" -- even as the Marines, who had nearly exterminated them, were in the act of withdrawing, according to agreement.

Warren joins the list of those calling for a more vigorous approach:

Election or no election, the Americans must now undo their mistake. They must, regardless of casualties, retake every town in the Sunni Triangle, and clean each one out, properly. Or, go home beaten by the Jihad. There really isn't a third option.

Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Max Boot says that spreading democracy has been shown to work, and that we need to move faster on that front, too.

ANOTHER UPDATE: The Belmont Club is looking at casualties in Iraq:

While these figures do not address all of its dimensions, I hope they provide some objective basis for bounding claims that are made. Based on the pattern of casualties, it is hard to reach the conclusion that Iraq is descending into anarchy or that the resistance is spreading uncontrollably. If that were true we would be seeing a different distribution of casualties. Combat in Iraq is complex politico-military phenomenon. Some aspects of the psychology and politics are covered in the CSIS Report. I hope to move onto other aspects tomorrow.

Read the whole thing.