Intelligence: Picking Al Qaeda Apart


November 16, 2007: U.S. commanders in Iraq tend to be cautious about claiming any success, as the media is quick to pounce if they find the claims questionable. But October pronouncements that al Qaeda was dead in Baghdad, and most of Iraq, was based on some pretty solid intelligence. First, there was the growing list of al Qaeda leaders that had been killed or captured. This grew from a few a month early in the year, before the surge offensive began in June, to 19 in July, 25 in August and 29 in September. These guys included provincial and city leaders, as well as the operational experts who took care of planning, equipping and exploiting (via the media) attacks. But the most important aspect of each of these captures or kills was the data found. Laptops, flash drives or just a bunch of paper documents were quickly examined. This stuff often consists only of names, addresses and other tidbits. But with the vast databases of names, addresses and such already available, typing in each item began to generate additional information, within minutes. That's why, within hours, each take-down of a terrorist leader tended to generate dozens of additional raids, and even more killed or captured al Qaeda operatives, as well as weapons, cash and bomb making materials. With all the data coming in, a clearer picture of al Qaeda became visible, and that led to the conclusion that the terrorist organization had cleared out of Baghdad.

But al Qaeda was not completely destroyed. As the surge offensive continued to tear apart the terrorist infrastructure, the leaders put the organization into survival mode. Planning and carrying out attacks became less important than keeping remaining leaders and key people out of jail, or a grave. This is why the number of terror attacks has plummeted. The remnants of al Qaeda have fled to northern Iraq, around Mosul and areas near the Iranian border. If worse comes to worse, the terrorists know they can flee into Iran, and have a chance of bargaining their way out of an Iranian jail. Within Iraq, however, capture is either a long jail sentence, or execution. Al Qaeda is the most hated organization in the country, and may have to abandon Iraq altogether if the pressure doesn't ease up.

But first, al Qaeda has to try and "go dark" and disappear from data stream that American intelligence monitors. This is difficult to do since the U.S. has such an extensive database of people who are, or have, worked for al Qaeda. Getting new recruits is very difficult, and getting foreigners into the country is more difficult now that Syria and Iran are really doing something to seal their border.

If al Qaeda cannot go dark and rebuild, they will have to abandon Iraq. That is almost unthinkable, because al Qaeda has, since 2003, declared Iraq to be "the graveyard of the Crusaders." To admit defeat in Iraq would be a tremendous blow to al Qaeda operations elsewhere. The organization is already weakened by the failure to carry out any more operations in the United States since September 11, 2001. Al Qaeda has been shut down in so many other areas as well. But it looks like Iraq may be the last stand, and the last straw.


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