by Austin Bay
June 25, 2003Syria the target? Or was it a belated "post-emptive" battle leading to the
arrest of genocidal gangsters? And by the way, what actually
Last week's U.S. attack on a convoy near the
Iraqi-Syrian border (south of the Iraqi town of Qaim), a convoy possibly
transporting "major figures" in Saddam's regime, supplies a quick military
and political snapshot of the War on Terror.
sketchy snapshot, one that catches the sharp high-technology angles, the
murky targets and troubling international political
Here's what the Pentagon's said so far. Five Syrian
border guards were wounded. Perhaps 20 Iraqis were arrested. One Iraqi
vehicle was hit by fire from a U.S. helicopter after the vehicle entered
Syria. Where was the helicopter? In Iraq or Syria? The snapshot gets fuzzy.
In combat, pilots can easily stray across a desert border -- that's possible.
The State Department says we're still trying to piece together the facts.
With the digital electronics on special operations helicopters, however,
somewhere there's a trail of bytes recording the chopper's path. We know
where it was. Bet on Syria.
Task Force 20 (TF20), a
special operations group organized to hunt Saddam, conducted the ambush. The
outfit draws troops from the Green Berets, Seals and Delta Force. It's tied
to every U.S. intelligence source, from orbiting satellites to Baghdad's back
alleys. Built for speed and agility, TF20 is designed to respond quickly to
"high priority level" targets as they emerge.
high-tech is America's ace when it can be brought to bear, and this ambush
brought it. Predator unmanned aircraft had a role. Predators can shoot
missiles and relay real-time video imagery to helicopters and to TF20 troops
on the ground. U.S. Air Force AC-130 gunships, electronics-packed turbo-prop
aircraft capable putting a howitzer round through a basketball hoop from a
mile in the air, supported the attack.
It's likely the
United States will run DNA tests on individuals killed in the ambush, on the
chance forensic hindsight will turn up a trace of Saddam.
See, we don't know. Here, the snapshot blots in a frustrating murk emblematic
of the entire war.
There's the political graininess. This war
escapes traditional political boundaries. Scholars argue "pre-emptive war"
undermines the Treaty of Westphalia (1648), the ur-document of the
nation-state system. Contemporary transnational terrorists, however, have
already exploited the system's weaknesses. Failed states (e.g., Somalia)
can't police themselves and thus cede sovereignty to terrorists; terror is
their bane. Rogue states (e.g., Syria) support and promote terrorists; terror
is their business.
Saddam isn't bin Laden, but cash,
despotism and militant hatred of America are their common grease. The terror
clans believe they can move in this borderless lubricant, and thus survive.
In order to defeat them, America has to "move the war." "Transnational"
(borderless) terror organizations use national borders as a defense, as they
turn airplanes into ICBMs and acquire nuclear weapons for even more
devastating attacks. The ambush at Qaim moved the war across a border,
because that's how it had to be fought.
A tip led to the
ambush. But was Saddam aboard? An intelligence tip led to the U.S. bombing in
Baghdad on March 19, which apparently missed the brute. The War on Terror is
first and foremost a spy war. 9-11 was an intelligence failure, following
eight years of failing to take Al Qaeda's 1993 World Trade Center attack with
the serious response it deserved. Tracking Al Qaeda is an intelligence
nightmare, day in and day out.
In war, intelligence is a best
assessment of what you know and what you think you know. Weapons of mass
destruction in Iraq? The United Nations said Saddam had chemical and bio
weapons and wouldn't account for them, as required by the resolutions that
suspended Desert Storm. So far, the weapons haven't turned
TF20 thought the convoy intelligence was credible and
took a chance. The results are murky.
Except its larger
messages are fairly clear. Rogue states that aid and abet terrorists are
erasing their own borders. After 9-11, incomplete intelligence won't stop a
counter-attack. Dictators who play hide and seek with weapons of mass
destruction won't stall one, either.