Friday, October 22, 2004

The opportunity cost of invading Iraq

Afghanistan, Iraq: Two Wars Collide (
At the peak of the hunt for bin Laden and his lieutenants, in early 2002, about 150 commandos operated along Afghanistan's borders with Pakistan and Iran in a top-secret team known as Task Force 5. The task force included a few CIA paramilitaries, but most of its personnel came from military 'special mission units,' or SMUs, whose existence is not officially acknowledged. One is the Army squadron once known as Delta Force. The other -- specializing in human and technical intelligence operations -- has not been described before in public. Its capabilities include close-in electronic surveillance and, uniquely in the U.S. military, the conduct of 'low-level source operations' -- recruiting and managing spies.

These elite forces, along with the battlefield intelligence technology of Predator and Global Hawk drone aircraft, were the scarcest tools of the hunt for jihadists along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. With Bush's shift of focus to Iraq, the special mission units called most of their troops home to prepare for a new set of high-value targets in Baghdad.

'There is a direct consequence for us having taken these guys out prematurely,' said Leverett, who then worked as senior director for Middle Eastern affairs on Bush's NSC staff. 'There were people on the staff level raising questions about what that meant for getting al Qaeda, for creating an Afghan security and intelligence service [to help combat jihadists]. Those questions didn't get above staff level, because clearly there had been a strategic decision taken.'

Task Force 5 dropped in strength at times to as few as 30 men. Its counterpart in Iraq, by early 2003, burgeoned to more than 200 as an insurgency grew and Hussein proved difficult to find. Late last year, the Defense Department merged the two commando teams and headquartered the reflagged Task Force 121 under Rear Adm. William H. McRaven in Baghdad.

An exceptional article in the Washington Post. Bush's 75% captured/killed statistic is bull feces.

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