Monday, June 26, 2006

Sporting Clays followup

Well, Troy Stirman's prediction that he would beat our team proved to be accurate...by one bird. The DeLoache-Duvall quartet finished a surprising third this year, surprising because other than new-this-year DeLoache cousin Jimmy (shooting in place of Averill, who was in a golf tournament that weekend) the rest of us couldn't hit squat. I hit 65, Dan broke 70 and Patrick had, if I remember rightly, 46. Jimmy broke eighty-something, though two STINKIN' birds would have been enough to propel our team into second.

The winning team had a low score in the mid-low 80s, and two of the top-five finishers were on that team. They beat the rest of us like a rented mule, so maybe there's some reason to practice. That and any time you can get out in the great (if somewhat manicured) outdoors with a shotgun and make noise, it's a good day. Plus, The Wife wants to start shooting, and this is also good because I need to buy her a shotgun, and any time you can buy a new gun it's ALSO a good day. I'm conflicted between getting a 20ga over-under or another 12ga, it's going to depend on how recoil-sensitive she is. If I go with the 20, at least The Boy can use it if The Wife's interest wanes. We'll see.

Congrats to Troy, and watch your back Stirman -- next year we might practice, and while one bird was enough of a margin this year, it won't be next year!

Next up: Range Report: The New (S)hotness.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

This is an Ex-Zarqawi

Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, 39, a native of Jordan was killed outside Baquba, Iraq on June 7, 2006.

By and large, the world is pretty cool with that. So am I.

James Dunnigan had a prophetic post on one of my favorite sites for military information, Strategypage.com. He noted basically that Zarqawi had become such a bloodthirsty thug that he was a liability for the world Islamofascist movement and he was going to be sacrificed in the near future. Either Dunnigan had been tipped off about Zarqawi’s death (he was killed June 7, but the main news didn’t hit until June 8 here), or he meant “near future” as in “the next 12 hours”. A man known for beheading people personally and for inspiring/planning car bombings that killed hundreds, he died as he lived – violently.

First, a few words about the manner of his death. The house he was in was hit by two 500lb bombs, and was almost completely collapsed. He was “alive” when US forces got there, but bomb damage to the human body comes in two main types: damage to the body by bomb casing fragments (the steel shell) or other projectiles created by the bomb (including slamming the human body into things like walls), and overpressure. The expanding wave of pressure from the bomb will seek any entry into the body, the pressure usually isn’t enough to literally crush you but even if you don’t get killed immediately by the blast, the pressure wave moving through your nose and mouth into your lungs will shred your alveoli (the little soap-bubble-like sacs you breathe with) and cause pulmonary hemorrhages. Even if you survive the initial blast, the damage to your lungs can easily be fatal as your shredded lungs fill with tissue fluid and blood. In fact, there is a whole class of weapons called thermobaric weapons designed to kill in just this way. They are, to put it mildy, nasty. Add rib fractures and internal injuries from being slammed against a wall at 200mph by the blast wave and you’re going to die, period. If Zarqawi had been blown up beside a Level I trauma center he would still likely have died. There was no need to “beat him with rifles” as has been alleged. First aid was essentially useless, he was a goner anyway.

As to the significance of the death of Al-Zarqawi, other than being a good thing it’s not like we’ve killed the only boogeyman under the bed of the Iraqi people. While he and his organization were probably among the more vicious of the Anti-Coalition Forces, Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia was thought to be only one of fourteen major groups in “the insurgency”. As, or possibly more, important than his death is the information that was obtained by grabbing his document stash, there have been over 400 raids across Iraqi rounding up people he was connected with, with 104 terrorists reported killed. The actual numbers are less important than the fact that his organization has likely been badly decapitated and his communications network unzipped well down the line. AQIM isn’t gone, but their effectiveness is likely badly deteriorated. They still rolled out car bombs in the days following Al-Zarqawi’s death, but don’t be surprised – those were the ones in the workshops nearly ready to go. If all goes as planned, the info haul from Al-Zarqawi’s death will shortly have those workshops under new management.

The latest twit to be appointed the head of the AQIM organization is a relative unknown named Abu Ayyub Masri or Sheik Abu Hamza Muhajer. “Who?” you ask...well, that clunking sound is AQIM hitting the bottom of the barrel. Al-Zarqawi was smart to have survived in Iraq prior to Saddam’s fall, and for three years afterward. Anybody that is replacing him is at least less experienced, and less-experienced folks tend to make more mistakes. It’s hard to develop an institutional memory when the “old guy” has been on the job six weeks longer than you. It’s also hard to have an institution at all when your money men are enjoying the less-than-tender mercies of the Iraqi justice system. And I can’t help but think that if we knew more Arabic we’d be less intimidated by the names of these guys. They almost never use their own names, they make stuff up – Al-Zarqawi was from Zarqa in Jordan, thus the name. This is like being threatened by people named “Jimmy the Neck” and “Brooklyn Tommy” from The Sopranos.

So in short, one player is off the board, the Iraqis are happier and things are rosy in the short term, at least they were perceived to be rosy enough for GWB to take Air Force One to Baghdad and actually leave the airport for several hours. Al-Zarqawi had trouble making friends in Iraq, there have been plenty of reports of Sunni tribesmen attacking AQIM forces because AQIM found a particular chieftan too inflexible or too infidel and offed him, earning the enmity of his clan. The final straw actually came from Jordanian Intelligence, they caught a border guard who was assisting AQIM and he sang like a bird about Al-Zarqawi. Had Al-Zarqawi not blown up three hotels in Jordan I’m not entirely sure the Jordanians would have shared their intel with us in such a timely manner, but Al-Zarqawi had long ago made his bomb crater and on June 7 he got to lie in it. Good riddance.

As far as where this leaves the US in the medium term, the answer IMO is only slightly better. There’s still tons of ordinance unaccounted for from the Saddam regime that is being slowly tallied as it is used in IEDs and car bombings day by day. One of the more vicious organizations is going to need a lot of time to recover, if they ever do. This leaves (by one count) 13 more to go. The plusses are that Al-Zarqawi won’t be able to continue to foment Sunni-Shi’a intercine fighting, though between the legacy of Saddam, about a thousand years of history and predations by both sides on the others’ populations, that particular fire has enough fuel to sustain itself if properly tended by those remaining on both sides. Iraqi PM Al-Maliki has finally gotten some acceptable people into the Interior, Defense and Energy ministries, and if they’re good and effective technocrats who can be trusted by all parties, things will perk up substantially there. Al-Maliki also has a face-to-face visit from GWB under his belt, and in a society that highly values respect I can’t help but think that will give him some standing. Bush and Blair have both in the last month come to HIM, not the other way around. Most Iraqis, most people in the Arab world IMO, understand the gulf between their countries and the West, and the leaders of the two richest and most powerful nations in the West have both come to Baghdad to meet this one person. That has to count for something.

We got some breathing room, I think. Iraq still needs to get toilets that flush, clean water, cheaper gasoline and kerosene and electrical power 24/7, police that don’t steal and exploit, an army that is a servant of the people and not its oppressors. Roads, schools, hospitals and above all, domestic peace. Getting the place down to the criminal activity level of Washington, DC would be an advance. As Churchill said, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Canada 17, Iraq 1

Been busy for a while, I need to DL the shotgun pics for my review of the Benelli Nova Tactical 12 Ga. That will be next, but meanwhile some interesting events have taken place.

First (chronologically, maybe not in importance), the RCMP arrested seventeen people in Canada on a variety of terrorism-related charges. The suspects had been under surveillance since 2004, apparently through Internet monitoring and possibly some cell phone intercepts as well. They had visited with a couple of Georgia Tech students, also apparently Islamic radicals, and had gone on to radicalize even further. The event that set up the bust was a RCMP sting operation, some members were arrested when they bought three TONS of what they believed to be ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer and half of the commercial explosive called ANFO, (Ammonium Nitrate and Fuel Oil). If you remember back to April 1995, one ton of ANFO mixed with diesel fuel took down the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. This is not paintball jihad, these people were serious. One of the conspirators had expressed a desire to behead Stephen Harper, the Canadian PM, during a takeover of the Parliament buildings in Ottawa. Other potential truck bomb targets included the headquarters of Canada'a CSIS, their equivalent to the CIA/NSA, and the CN Tower, a 1,400 foot steel and concrete golf tee in the middle of Toronto.

What's so creepy about this is that these people were, up until the arrests, mostly average Canadians in the eyes of their fellow Canadians. Most of us can understand some sort of radicalization under persecution or a Stalinst state like Hussein's Iraq, what is somewhat jarring to even anti-Americans is that this would occur in Canada. For people who believe that terrorism is the result of an insufficient level of government services, it's hard to believe that the People's Republic of Canada, with it's largely lassiez faire attitude toward immigration and loud claims of tolerance as well as a generous social safety net would be fertile ground for Islamofascism. "Dirt poor" by Canadian standards is still rich beyond measure in most Middle Eastern countries, and the level of oppression in Canada is essentially negiligible (though not zero, racial intolerance is neither an export nor a strictly indigenous product of the US). Somehow, living in this "nice" place like southern Ontario, these people went rather far around the bend.

I would prefer that there have been an Al Qaeda trainer or recruiter found in the mix, it would be comforting to know that Islamic radicalism is being franchised like McDonald's. The reason this would be comforting is that the alternative to homegrown hatred is that Islamofascism is now an open source movement. Get online, download the MP3s of the Friday sermons at the more radical mosques around the world, print out the PDFs to hand out at your own mosque, study the Koran from an apparently authoritative (but skewed) viewpoint and you can practically roll your own terrorism cell. This kind of Islamofascism I find to be far more worrisome than one or a few organizations quietly sending out people to spread the word. If the messengers were the problem, we could kill or imprison the messengers and the cancer would be contained. The fact is, it's worse than you think. The message is out there, and if it can take root and blossom into weapons practice on a farm in northern Ontario and deals for enough HE to blow up several buildings, there is a major problem.

Maybe it's because I live in Flyover Country, but as bad as 9/11 was I believe there are worse ways we could be hurt. The Beslan school incident, in which Chechen terrorists took over a school and ended up killing a couple hundred people including many children, was awful enough Over There. For the vast majority of Americans, New York and Washington were Over There. The terrible acts of terrorists are magnified when perpetrated in major media markets like NYC because of the narcissistic nature of journalists who congregate in NYC, and I can understand why that's a tempting target. But the lives of people in NYC are so separate and different than most of our lives that it's difficult to identify with them, what got many of us was that we have almost all been passengers on airplanes at one time or another -- THAT was something we could relate to. It's the things we relate to where the malignant energy of terrorism resonates within us the best.

This is why I was paradoxically happy to find out that John Allen Mohammed and Lee Boyd Malvo were the pair behind the DC Shootings a couple of years back. For a total cost of $700 for a Bushmaster AR-15 and maybe a couple grand for a junky Caprice, two losers terrorized metropolitan Washington, D.C. for a week. Mayhem for the sake of extortion is something we can deal with, even if we don't want to. We are at least familiar with the concept of crime, even murder, in the pursuit of financial gain. Had this been the first of a number of low-cost Al Qaeda operations, I would begin to believe that Al Qaeda was getting serious about disrupting everyday life in the United States. The problem with Open Source Islamofascim is that you don't need NSA intercepts of international phone calls, you don't even need to see a change in calling patterns or any of the other things that amateurs or sloppy professionals will do that allow our law enforcement agencies to track and dismantle them. No Al Qaeda connection is necessary, these people are independent operators seeking to redress their grievances with commonly-available means. Islamofascism in New York is enough to make us collectively angry. Islamofascism in Fresno, Colorado Springs, Columbus and Charlotte all on the same day, with mall bombings, school takeovers and chemical plant attacks all on the same day would be far more troubling to us. We don't all live in or go to New York frequently, but most all of us have children in our lives, and the video of a school takeover will resonate far better than collapsing towers ever could. Oh my goodness, that child has the same shirt my son wore to shcool yesterday. And that one's hair looks just like my daughter's...

I think you get the picture.

The only benefit I see to Islamofascism being the driving force behind these losers is that the deeper you go into any cult-like organization, you of necessity leave behind your relationship to the world the rest of us share. What becomes important to you is not important to us. We mourn the 3,000 dead on 9/11 but the planes and buildings are just stuff. We can replace stuff in the West almost without thinking, in five years another building will rise at the WTC site, and probably it will be larger and more beautiful than the ones it replaces. A person on one of the Internet message boards I frequent pointed out that Islamofascists are drawn to destroy what the Islamic world cannot create, by destroying the symbols of our great technological leaps ahead of them they demystify our power and show that the favor of Allah is not with the infidel. This kind of ignores the unbelievable feats of engineering in nearby Dubai, but it could be fairly argued by fundamentalist Muslims that Dubai and the Emirates are a bunch of free-living sybarite infidels as bad as or worse than we are. My theory on the "Big Bang" concept of going against large public targets is that Islamofascists only have so many people willing to blow themselves up in spectacular fashion, and blowing away a Denny's in South Bend with a truck bomb doesn't have the same impact that an attack on the Eaton Centre in Toronto would, so if you have one shot you need to swing for the fences. The fact that Palestinian terrorists will go after the same falafel stand in the Old Tel Aviv bus station not once but twice suggests that they have manpower to spare.

The implications for Open Source Islamofascism are pretty dire, I'm afraid. One (or two, if you count the 7/7 bombers in the UK) example is not a trend. But as more cells of non-Al Qaeda-affiliated wanna-be terrorists are identified, the big losers in the equation are the Muslims of the West who see the concept of jihad as an internal struggle and have no desire to attack their fellow citizens. It's worth noting that an important group helping to keep the lid on Islamofascist terrorism in the US are the Muslims themselves, who regularly report people attempting to radicalize their mosques or lead their kids astray into martyrdom and ignominity. It's incredibly valuable to have people inside the community volunteer information that keeps the rest of us safe, establishing agent networks in the American Muslim community would otherwise take time we may not have. The precipitous downside of a successful large-scale terrorist attack in the US, particularly if it comes from a domestic-only source, will be an actual backlash against Muslims as opposed to the Astroturf ones groups like CAIR promote as examples of intolerance.

I don't have time to get to the ex-Zarqawi right now, but I'll add another post in a while.