Several months ago there was a story on NBC that claimed that the Bush administration knew about Al Zarqawi’s terrorist training camp in the Northern no-fly zone in Iraq long before the war started and that they and that they had decided not to take the camp out because it was more convenient to have a terrorist training camp in Iraq as a way of selling the war. Administration supporters, naturally, thought the story was absurd and just another example of that darn liberal media. Alas, it looks like it may be true. In this morning’s Wall Street Journal (about the furthest thing from liberal), there is a story quoting military sources as saying that the substance of the story is true:
The Pentagon drew up detailed plans in June 2002, giving the administration a series of options for a military strike on the camp Mr. Zarqawi was running then in remote northeastern Iraq, according to generals who were involved directly in planning the attack and several former White House staffers. They said the camp, near the town of Khurmal, was known to contain Mr. Zarqawi and his supporters as well as al Qaeda fighters, all of whom had fled from Afghanistan. Intelligence indicated the camp was training recruits and making poisons for attacks against the West.
Senior Pentagon officials who were involved in planning the attack said that even by spring 2002 Mr. Zarqawi had been identified as a significant terrorist target, based in part on intelligence that the camp he earlier ran in Afghanistan had been attempting to make chemical weapons, and because he was known as the head of a group that was plotting, and training for, attacks against the West. He already was identified as the ringleader in several failed terrorist plots against Israeli and European targets. In addition, by late 2002, while the White House still was deliberating over attacking the camp, Mr. Zarqawi was known to have been behind the October 2002 assassination of a senior American diplomat in Amman, Jordan.
But the raid on Mr. Zarqawi didn’t take place. Months passed with no approval of the plan from the White House, until word came down just weeks before the March 19, 2003, start of the Iraq war that Mr. Bush had rejected any strike on the camp until after an official outbreak of hostilities with Iraq. Ultimately, the camp was hit just after the invasion of Iraq began.
Since that time, of course, Zarqawi has led a bloody insurgency, including multiple beheadings. Now, this isn’t necessarily proof that the administration was motivated by a desire to hold on to a selling point for the war, but at the very least it shows rank incompetence and stupidity. Remember all that heated rhetoric about how we were going to find the terrorists wherever they were and smoke them out of their holes, wherever they are? Well all that tough talk was apparently a load of crap.
Throughout the 1990s, we ran bombing raids on sites inside Iraq. Whenever we saw an anti-aircraft battery or munitions dump, we took it out. This happened innumerable times throughout the 1990s and was just a matter of routine. So here we have a known terrorist training camp run by one of the world’s most dangerous terrorists, we know where it is, we have specific information placing that terrorist on the grounds…and we do nothing. And he escaped and is now blowing up our soldiers and Iraqi civilians on a daily basis, stopping mostly to behead people. Still believe Bush’s tough-talking rhetoric?
This administration left 350 tons of high explosives they knew was there unguarded, and let Zarqawi live to kill our troops when they had a chance to take him out. At best, this is stunning stupidity. At worst, it’s playing political games with terrorists, putting their own political strategy ahead of protecting us. Either way, it’s a major problem.