AQ in Iraq having a bad week
The two top leaders of the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq were slain in a U.S. airstrike over the weekend, a decisive tactical victory for American and Iraqi forces and one that provides Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki with additional political leverage at a crucial time.
Acting on a tip they received in recent days, Iraqi and U.S. Special Forces descended on a safe house shared by the leaders of the Sunni Muslim insurgent group in Tikrit, in northern Iraq, officials said Monday.
As the troops approached the house, an explosion occurred inside, likely the result of a suicide bombing, U.S. officials said. American forces then quickly dropped a bomb on the house, U.S. officials said.
Abu Ayyub al-Masri, an Egyptian who was the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the shadowy leader of the group's umbrella organization, the Islamic State of Iraq, were among those killed in the operation early Sunday, Maliki and U.S. officials said.
"The deaths of these terrorists is potentially the most significant blow to al-Qaeda in Iraq since the beginning of the insurgency," Gen. Ray Odierno, the top commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, said in a statement.
One American soldier was killed and three were injured during the operation in a helicopter crash, the U.S. military said. Officials emphasized that Iraqi troops had led the operation.
After being markedly weakened during the U.S. troop surge in 2007, al-Qaeda in Iraq reemerged as a serious threat last year with a series of spectacular attacks that struck at the heart of the Iraqi state, casting a pall over its Shiite-led government and the impending drawdown of American troops.
Today, the group no longer has a steady supply of foreign funding, grass-roots support, or scores of foreign fighters willing to travel to Iraq to carry out suicide bombings. The killing of Masri and Baghdadi will only weaken the group further.
Don't write them off, just yet. AQI is still a threat in Iraq to the stability of the fledgling government. The airstrike, however, does help al-Maliki as he continues to face opposition in the Iraqi parliament, and questions regarding the recent election.. So, he'll take that good news, and the intelligence coup that comes with it. Netted in the aftermath of the airstrike was correspondance these two had with bin Laden:
After Mr. Maliki’s press conference, the American military released a statement verifying that Mr. Baghdadi was killed in a joint raid between Iraqi and United States forces in the dark hours of Sunday morning near Tikrit, near Saddam Hussein’s hometown.
Also killed, according to Mr. Maliki and American officials, was Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, also known as Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a largely Iraqi group that includes some foreign leadership.
Both men were found in a hole in the ground.
“The security forces surrounded the hole, and when they got them out they were dead,” Mr. Maliki said at the news conference. Mr. Maliki said computers and letters were found that included communication between the men and Osama bin Laden.
I;m not buying the correspondence. I mean, yeah they were likely talking with AQ leaders in Pakistan/Afghanistan, but I still firmly believe that bin Laden is dead. Think about it .... back in July of 2007 bloggers outed a video that was released by al Qaeda that reused old footage of bin Laden. Additionally, they uncovered that the soundtrack to that video was severely edited to the point where what bin Laden was saying didn't match what his mouth was saying. Other videos since then that show him have similar, old footage, and the majority of statements from him have been audio recordings. (No offense, but with the right programs, I could make myself sound like bin Laden.)
The rest of the intelligence on those computers will be put to good use to continue dismantling AQI. The Iraqi forces are performing better than ever, and the American forces are taking more of a support/back-up roll in operations like this. (The Iraqis still need air support, so they turn to us for it.)
It's only a matter of time before either: A) AQI is finished off in Iraq, or B) They retreat from Iraq. I'm hedging bets on the latter, and when they run they'll be heading for one of three places: Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Northern Africa.