Eliminating Smoldering Coals

In the Vietnam War (search), when I first felt the pride of placing a green beret on my head, we in Special Forces had a dual mission: We were fighting an unconventional war in Vietnam and simultaneously training to be guerrillas.

Our primary unit mission was to carry out a resistance movement behind enemy lines. We trained in sabotage, ambush and guerrilla warfare (search) -- tactics of the weak -- for we were not strong enough to engage the enemy in positional warfare.

These tactics are roughly similar to those employed by what Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (search) calls “dead enders” who are fighting our troops in Iraq today. These guys are former Baathist regime holdouts, committed to Saddam Hussein (search), and joined by foreign jihadists infiltrated from such garden spots as Syria, Iran, Afghanistan and Palestine. The tactics used by these dead enders -- hit and run, assassination, ambush, sabotage, intimidation of the population -- are clearly indicative of a group struggling simply to stay alive.

Paradoxically, the more horrific the targets for attack, the weaker the terrorists. The truck bombing of U.N. headquarters in Baghdad (search) is a classic example. Unable to pull off something of that magnitude against an American or British military outfit, the terrorists pick a soft, innocent target upon which to vent their murderous nature.

After all, in a country awash in munitions, putting together a truck bomb is no great shakes. Killing for the sheer horrific effect makes them feel successful. Only a sociopath gloats over murdering innocents. So they blow up children, women and bystanders in their random acts. But each attack underlines the fact that they are becoming progressively weaker.

The wonder to those of us who trained to be guerrillas is not that there is so much activity right now in Iraq but so little. If the situation was reversed and our special ops guys were advising the resistance, the entire country would be aflame. A well-trained, organized force supported by a significant percentage of the Iraqi population would have scores of bombings daily along with dozens of assassinations.

What this tells us is that 1) the terrorists are strictly on their own. Most of the Iraqi population does not support the terrorists yet fears a return of the Baathists. (search) That is why icing Uday and Qusay was so important and why double-tapping Saddam will usher in a new era to Iraq.

And, 2) these terrorists are typical of the Middle East variety: poorly trained, uneducated hate machines bent on martyrdom. Fortunately, they have come to the right place to accomplish that goal.

Criticism is surfacing that President Bush has turned Iraq into a battleground for terrorists. If that is truly the case then, well, good: Better to fight them in Iraq where they are isolated, vulnerable and the rules of engagement permit our professionals to engage and eliminate them, than to have to fight them here. If Iraq is the catalyst that is bringing these vermin out of their holes in Syria, Iran, Afghanistan and Palestine, then, hooray, we have achieved yet another tangential benefit by fighting the war.

Some say that some of these fighters have emerged simply because the opportunity to fight Americans is available to them. In other words, that if left alone they would not have posed a threat. It is tough to know with hypotheticals, but the case can be made that some of these thugs would have been prime recruits for Al Qaeda (search), Hamas or any of the other alphabet soup of fundamentalist Islamic terror groups. Better to eliminate them where we can rather than risk confronting them elsewhere.

We are engaged in the endgame of a war, the dirty days of snuffing out the last of the opposition. Just like firefighters extinguishing a blaze, we know that eliminating the last smoldering coal is sometimes tougher than fighting roaring flames. But like iron tempered in the fire, the new Iraq will emerge over time stronger, freer and more resilient than ever.

Gordon Cucullu is a former Green Beret lieutenant colonel and writer. His book, Separated at Birth: How North Korea became the Evil Twin, will be released by Simon & Schuster this fall. He is a contributor to TechCentralStation.com.