War & Politics

Col. Bill Cowan
Last week was not a good one for the war on terror. A videotaped message from bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, predicted defeat for the U.S. and its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Only a few months ago al-Zawahiri’s imminent capture or death was being predicted widely in the news as Pakistani troops assaulted a fortressed area where Zawahiri was said to be hiding. Unfortunately, as the tape proved, it didn’t happen.

Zawahiri’s video was followed a few days later by an audiotape from Abu Musab Zarqawi, the number one fugitive in Iraq, boasting about the recent successes of Islamic holy warriors in Iraq against the U.S.-led Coalition and the interim Iraqi government. 

To be sure, neither the situations in Fallujah nor the outcome in Najaf are cause for celebration by the troops who fought there. Their incremental victories were many, but in the final analysis they weren’t driven back by the enemy. Instead, they were driven back by diplomatic and political decision-makers in Washington, D.C., concerned about world opinion and a political season in full swing. 

To be sure, our military today is arguably the finest it’s ever been.  As we’ve learned since 9/11, our men and women are up to any task around the world. They’re well-trained, equipped, and led. They’re accepting difficult hardships, yet re-enlisting to continue the fight, and they’re committed to defending their nation, whatever the cost.  Against that backdrop, these are clearly tough times in Iraq, and it doesn’t seem likely that our forces are going to be given green lights anytime soon to take care of business.  In essence, we are in somewhat of a holding pattern wherein each side has some limited successes, but no one can declare victory — except, of course, in video or audiotapes clandestinely smuggled to the media.

What then is the real situation?  It seems we come back to the argument that was being made almost from the moment major fighting ended over a year ago — empowering the Iraqis themselves to take care of their own business, while U.S. and other Coalition forces provide the necessary training and equipment to support them.  And that’s exactly what’s happening.

Army General Dave Patreus, former commander of the 101st Airmobile Division during the war and its aftermath is back in Iraq, in charge of training the army and other forces who will bring about security. A seasoned veteran of both Haiti and Bosnia, Patreus brings a keen understanding of working with locals. Sitting cross-legged on a rug in a tent and drinking tea with the locals is something he’s comfortable with and adept at.  He knows firsthand how relationship building plays between cultures, and there is no question but that his work and that of his staff will reflect in the trained Iraqis who leave his stewardship and take up their duties.  The downside to his efforts is that it takes time.

The second encouraging sign is that the airstrikes we are running in Fallujah and the successful raids we are conducting elsewhere in the country are in large part the result of good intelligence being provided by networks we now have in place and common citizens coming forward with credible information on the enemy.  Arguments about the criticality of intelligence are as applicable to Iraq as they are to the rest of the global war on terror.  Without it we can’t prevail, and by all accounts the amount and value of intelligence continues to increase.  That alone is a subtle indicator of success.

To be sure, there will be more difficult times over the coming weeks and months.  Against the backdrop of the bad news, however, our military men and women on the front lines and elsewhere will continue to give 100% effort, 100% of the time. Iraqis will continue to be trained and ultimately deployed to take over the fight. Critical information will continue to be brought in to identify and neutralize insurgents, and, here in the U.S., diplomats and politicians will continue to worry about world opinion and upcoming elections.

Col. Bill Cowan is a military analyst for FOX News Channel.