TCS Daily


Gangland Slaying

By Ralph Kinney Bennett - June 9, 2006 12:00 AM

Ahmed Fadhil Nazzal al-Khalayleh was a murderous Jordanian thug who might have died relatively unknown. But the sullen, quick tempered, semi-literate gangster, thought by some in his own hometown to be a dangerous half-wit, had "found religion" as the expression goes. And then he hitched his wagon to the bloody star of remote-control mass murderer and fellow Islamo-psychotic Osama Bin Laden.

And thus, as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, "the superstar of the international jihad," he met death suddenly and violently in a notably unsafe "safe house" a few miles north of the Iraqi town of Baquba early this past Wednesday evening.

Much has already been said and will be said about the "career" and death of this literal cutthroat. But the sum of his life and his sudden departure from it has been best captured in the succinct admirably alliterative Hispano/Anglo-Saxon expression of pejorative proctology put forth by that redoubtable milblog Blackfive:

"Adios, Asshole."

Rather than ruminate on Zarqawi's "meaning" or the meaning of his death, it might be useful to focus on three aspects of this event -- one of them reassuring, the other two with ominous and enduring implications for this long global war.

First, and most obvious, while it has been fashionable to play up the limits of big expensive modern weapons in "asymetrical warfare," the fact is that American military technology has brought the concept of "striking while the iron is hot" to a deadly new level.

Zarqawi, his lieutenants and his "spiritual adviser" were meeting in a fairly remote and "anonymous" house shaded by neat rows of tall palm trees. It is presumed they had men positioned in the area to watch for any movement of Iraqi police or coalition forces. But in a matter of seconds, without warning, they were eliminated with extreme prejudice. The two 500-pound precision guided bombs did not land nearby. They landed inside the intended target.

The Coalition's Combined Air Operations Command (CAOC), based in Doha, Qatar has about 500 combat aircraft available for missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Flying from bases in Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Iraq, as well as from aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, a group of these bomb- and missile-laden aircraft, as well as sophisticated manned and unmanned surveillance planes, maintain 24/7 coverage of Iraq. So some aspects of this mission were actually more routine than they might at first appear.

Air Force, Navy, Marine and Army pilots have been putting bombs and rockets through the windows and doors of targeted houses and buildings in Iraq for some time. And long-range air-to-ground elimination of key enemy leaders has been standard operating procedure in Israel for years. But seldom has an intelligence breakthrough been exploited so rapidly and elegantly as in the Zarqawi attack.

A journalist all my life, I'm as eager for the inside skinny as anyone, but in this case I hope that we will learn very little of the methodology of this operation and that half of what we learn (who tipped off who etc.) will be purposely misleading. My grandchildren can learn the details someday. In the greater scheme of the war this operation was routine work for our special forces, and a miserable pig like Zarqawi is not worth giving up trade secrets.

But suffice it to say, the state of "humint," the on-the-ground intelligence available to the U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq, is not in quite the sorry state that it is often portrayed. HETs (humint exploitation teams) run by American forces in Iraq have begun to see the payoff for years of painstaking, often frustrating, learn-from-your-mistakes work with Iraqi citizens. These and other intelligence assets have made significant inroads against the terror networks despite the formidable barriers of language, of treachery and of family and tribal loyalties.

The growing synergy between on-ground intelligence efforts and our superb sky-borne capabilities means that just as terrorists in the Gaza strip have to keep looking up and over their shoulder so also the Islamo-psychotics in Iraq cannot assume there is any safe house, or safe anything, anywhere.

Second, there are still plenty of people to hunt down and kill. Remember, Zarqawi was a thug with a thug's canniness. He was perhaps an exceptional thug in some ways, slippery and lucky. But there are hundreds, possibly thousands more like him. At one time they might have merely moved about in the Middle Eastern underworld. But most of them have been raised from infancy to hate the West, the "infidels" and the Jews and also to hate "apostates" within their own religion.

Already criminals, they find that the mystique of Al-Qaeda gives them a sense of purpose and adds a certain romance to the more mundane elements of criminal enterprise. While some of them may be content to exploit for their own thuggish ends the economic and social chaos of the current war, others -- the exceptional ones -- will wrap themselves in some Koranic aura of mission and justification. They will continue to murder in the name of Allah without a lot of specific direction from the tall, sad-faced guy somewhere on the Afghan-Pakistan border.

These jihadist self-starters are the worrisome elements of Islamic spontaneous combustion. And out of these wildfires will emerge the next al-Zarqawi.

Third, criminals like Zarqawi would be non-stories were it not for the over-arching credo of murderous hatred and revenge that continues to pour forth from spokesmen of "the religion of peace" all over the world. While the West has bent over backward to accommodate Islam and give it its due as "one of the world's great religions," a grim reality is emerging. No matter how many ways the scholars parse it, jihad always turns out to mean murder and destruction. The lessons being taught in Muslim schools are harrowing in their narrowness and hatred. The voices of tolerance in the Arab media and the intelligentsia are weak and rare. And the silence of the "peaceful" imams is deafening.

Perhaps the most sentient remark on this whole business came from an executive of Dubai television, who called the elimination of Zarqawi "the most important news, not only in the past few weeks but for the next few weeks." In the perspective of this long and terrible war Zarqawi's fifteen minutes of fame are over. "Z man" is dead. But what hate-steeped beast, his hour come round at last, now slouches toward Baghdad to be born?

Ralph Kinney Bennett is a TCS Contributing Editor.

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