Alexander's Column

Next up, Baghdad!

Mark Alexander · Jan. 11, 2002

The war against Jihadistan continued unabated this week, with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warning Thursday that we are “still in the early stages of a dangerous and difficult conflict.” And he reminded: “Terrorists can attack at any time, at any place, using any technique. And it is not possible to defend every place at every moment of the day or night against every conceivable technique of terrorism. The only way you can deal with it is to go after them and stop them and that is what we are trying to do.”

Our team broke or destroyed a lot of al Qaeda’s inventory – most significantly a gargantuan store of weapons secreted away in the Zhawar Kili cave strongholds – and kept on killing our enemies and taking prisoners. Former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef was arrested and extradited to Afghanistan, where U.S. authorities took him into custody. Captured al Qaeda leader Ibn Al-Shaykh al-Libi, once listed among the 12 most wanted al Qaeda leaders, and who helped run terror chief Osama bin Laden’s training camps in Afghanistan, reportedly has been “most cooperative” in interrogations.

Transfers of other captured Taliban and al Qaeda to the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Base began Thursday, with the transport of these detainees from the Kandahar airport thought very dangerous over the entire 15-hour flight to Cuba. Prisoners were described as hooded, chained, and possibly sedated with Valium – flying high so to speak.

Illustrating the remaining dangers: Elsewhere in Kandahar, an al Qaeda fighter attempting escape from a hospital jumped from the second story, then, realizing he was surrounded, blew himself up with a grenade rather than surrender. And a KC-130 refueling tanker based from MCAS Miramar crashed in Pakistan Wednesday, killing seven Marines onboard. “Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of the soldiers,” President George Bush said. “But I want to remind them that the cause that we are now engaged in is just and noble. The cause is freedom and this nation will not rest until we’ve achieved our objective.” Defense Secretary Rumsfeld agreed, “It is a tough, dangerous business over there. They’re doing difficult things and they’re doing them darned well, and it just breaks your heart.”

It is worth noting, however, that the most seasoned warriors are amazed at the very limited number of casualties we have suffered in the Afghan campaign. Bottom line: Our combat special ops units are very good at their craft! But as al Qaeda diehards are on the run, and former Taliban fade into the landscape as recycled “anti-Taliban,” the question arising is where next to expand the front lines with Jihadistan.

Sen. John McCain, leaving a tour of the region, blurted, “Next up, Baghdad!” We second that! However, Secretary of State Colin Powell apparently favors revisiting Somalia, even though surveillance suggests pressured al Qaeda are running from camps there. And the State Department this week reiterated its policy of not funding operations in Iraq of the Iraqi National Congress opposing dictator Saddam Hussein. National security analyst Michael Ledeen remarked, “If Congress were serious about taking the war to Iraq – and no more suitable target can be imagined – it would demand that Secretary Powell explain in detail why the State Department’s leaders should not be held in contempt of Congress.” Powell went into Desert Storm dragging his feet – and they still are!