The Real Connection Between Iraq And Al Qaeda

While the United States military concentrates its resources on keeping together a country that is clearly splintering apart, the men who killed 3,000 Americans on September 11th are gaining strength again:

WASHINGTON, Feb. 18 — Senior leaders of Al Qaeda operating from Pakistan have re-established significant control over their once-battered worldwide terror network and over the past year have set up a band of training camps in the tribal regions near the Afghan border, according to American intelligence and counterterrorism officials.

American officials said there was mounting evidence that Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, had been steadily building an operations hub in the mountainous Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan. Until recently, the Bush administration had described Mr. bin Laden and Mr. Zawahri as detached from their followers and cut off from operational control of Al Qaeda.

The United States has also identified several new Qaeda compounds in North Waziristan, including one that officials said might be training operatives for strikes against targets beyond Afghanistan.

American analysts said recent intelligence showed that the compounds functioned under a loose command structure and were operated by groups of Arab, Pakistani and Afghan militants allied with Al Qaeda. They receive guidance from their commanders and Mr. Zawahri, the analysts said. Mr. bin Laden, who has long played less of an operational role, appears to have little direct involvement.

And what about the manhunt for bin Laden and Zawahiri:

Officials said that the United States still had little idea where Mr. bin Laden and Mr. Zawahri had been hiding since 2001, but that the two men were not believed to be present in the camps currently operating in North Waziristan. Among the indicators that American officials cited as a sign that Qaeda leaders felt more secure was the release of 21 statements by Mr. bin Laden and Mr. Zawahri in 2006, roughly twice the number as in the previous year.

What about the Iraq connection ? Well, let’s ponder some alternate history for a second. Let’s pretend that the United States didn’t invade Iraq in 2003 and instead concentrated on the War in Afghanistan, the seach for bin Laden and the remaining Taliban leaders, and the final destruction of the al Qaeda network. Isn’t it just possible that the situation in Afghanistan would be alot better than it is today ?

The most frustrating thing to me about the Iraq War is the way in which it has distracted us from fighting the real enemy. It wasn’t Saddam Hussein who attacked us on September 11th, it was al Qaeda. It wasn’t Saddam Hussein who was providing refuge to al Qaeda, it was the Taliban government of Afghanistan. That’s where the United States military should have been in 2003, not the deserts of Iraq.

Update: Kevin makes a point in this comment that I think is essentially correct. Sending more troops into Afghanistan might not necessarily have been the right move either, but at the very least I think that the War On Terror would be in a far different state right now if our resources had been focused on the real enemy rather than diverted to Iraq.