Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Weekend Battles in the War on Terror

Eight months ago, Mawlavi Ghafar was released from the U.S. base in Guantanamo Base. Ghafar had been held since his arrest in Afghanistan, just two months after a U.S.-led coalition drove the Taliban from power in late 2001. Freed from Guantanamo, Ghafar promptly returned to Afghanistan, where he resumed the fight against the U.S. and its allies. Ghafar became the Taliban's senior commander for the southern province of Uruzgan and neighboring Helmand provinces. Nevertheless, do not look for Ghafar to become the Willie Horton of the 2004 presidential campaign, despite the fact that both Horton and Ghafar are conspicuous recidivists.

[Historical footnote: Willie Horton, a convicted murderer in Massachusetts, was released on furlough in 1986, fled to Maryland, took a suburban couple hostage, tortured the man and raped his wife. The Massachusetts Legislature responded to the growing outrage by voting to end the furlough program for convicted murders. Governor Michael Dukakis reluctantly reversed his defense of the program, and quietly signed the repeal before resuming his presidential campaign. The issue of whether Dukakis was "soft on crime" was raised in the primary campaign by an opponent, the then Senator Al Gore, and again, in the 1988 general election campaign by President George H. W. Bush.]

Ghafar's story ended abruptly when he was killed in an ambush on Saturday by Afghan security forces in Uruzgan. General David Barno, somewhat defensively allowed that the screening process at the U.S. detention facility was not "flawless." "Inevitably there is going to be a few that may slip through that and come back here to play a role," he said. Yet, the interview ended with an intriguing follow-up thought from General Borno, paraphrased by the Reuters reporter: "He [Borno] added that U.S. intelligence in Afghanistan kept track of Guantanamo Bay returnees." Tracked and then killed, Ghafar was indeed no Willie Horton.

Was Ghafar more like Rusty Millio? In last season's HBO series The Sopranos, Frankie Valli played a Mob captain Rusty Millio, one of a group of just-released prison felons known as the Class of 2004. The Sopranos portrays the integration of a mobster back into the gang's heirarchy as a difficult transition for all involved. Giving the returning criminal a position that fits his seniority causes resentment among the young turks who are pushed aside to make room. Doing any less risks angering the old-timers and sends the message that loyalty is not a two-way street. Alas, Millio doesn't handle the transition well and is unable to be properly deferential to those who are junior in age but senior in rank. The episode ends with Millio on a bus back to prison, after his parole officer is tipped to the contraband in his garage.

No, I don't suspect that Ghafar was similarly betrayed by his own. Yet, if a criminal, just released from prison, has a hard time reintegrating back into a crime family, how hard must it now be for terrorists to return to the fold? Recall that just last year, the notorious Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi of Jemaah Islamiyah made a "getaway" from a Manila jail only soon to be killed in a "shootout."

Repatriation of a terrorist back into the network seemed to be much easier before 9-11. Released from a 15 year sentence of hard labor in a Jordanian jail in 1999, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi returned to Afghanistan where, with the permission of Osama bin Laden, he set up a training camp in Herat.

Now, Zarqawi is said to be in Fallujah, where U.S. airstrikes this last Saturday night killed many of his followers in Tawhid wal Jihad. One of those killed was Ahmed Tabouki, a Saudi said to be Zarqawi's right-hand man. ("Associate of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi killed in U.S. airstrikes in Fallujah," Steve Fainaru, Washington Post, September 27, 2004).

The precise targeting of the terrorists can only increase mistrust within the group. Reuters reports:
Another U.S. official said the U.S. military had intelligence of "infighting and executions" inside Zarqawi's group, Tawhid and Jihad, which means Monotheism and Holy War. (U.S. Says Over 100 Zarqawi Loyalists Killed in Iraq)

A revealing biography of Al-Zarqawi in Sunday's (London) Telegraph ("Profile: Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi," Con Coughlin , September 26, 2004) begins with an account of how he believes he was called to Jihad:
It came to him in a dream. One night in 1992, as the 26-year-old Abu Musab al-Zarqawi slept in his shabby, two-storey house in Jordan, he dreamt that a glistening sword had fallen from heaven and come to rest, somewhat conveniently, in his outstretched hand.

On one side of the sword was inscribed the word Jihad, Holy War. On the other side was his name, Abu Musab, and a verse from the Koran: "Thy Lord has not forsaken thee. Do not despair or mourn. You will be victorious if you truly believe."

The deaths this past Saturday of Ghafar and Tabouki, and on Sunday of Farooqi have made it much harder for Al-Zarqawi to believe, much less to dream.

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|| headland, 12:51 AM

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