It was April, 2007, almost exactly two years ago. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, speaking for the Democratic Party, declared the Muslim terrorists had won the war in Iraq.
"I believe myself that the secretary of state, secretary of defense and - you have to make your own decisions as to what the president knows - (know) this war is lost and the surge is not accomplishing anything...," said Reid.
Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby described the mindset of the time in a lookback this week (Bush's Folly is ending in victory, March 25, 2009): There was no military solution to the sectarian slaughter. The surge would only make the violence worse. Victory was not an option. The only choice was to partion Iraq and get out.
That was then. This is now.
ABC reporter Terry McCarthy filed this report on life in Iraq for World News Sunday:
"Markets without bombs. Hummers without guns. Ice cream after dark. Busy streets without fear. Six years after the war started, more Iraqis now say the economy, rather than security, is the biggest concern in their lives... 60% expect things to get better next year, almost three times as many as a year and a half ago. Iraqis are slowly discovering they have a future. We flew south to Basra, where 94% say their lives are going well. Oil is plentiful here. So is money, which they like to spend on expensive imports."
"...a city reborn: speed, light, style - this is Baghdad today. Where car bombs have given way to car racing. Where a once-looted museum has been restored and reopened. And where young women who were forced to cover their heads can again wear the clothes that they like."
Insurgent-committed attacks in Iraq have decreased to their lowest level since August 2003, a drop of more than 90-percent since June, 2007, according to Army Maj. Gen. David G. Perkins, director for Strategic Effects at Multi-National Force - Iraq.
"Dramatic advances in public attitudes are sweeping Iraq, with declining violence, rising economic well-being and improved services lifting optimism, fueling confidence in public institutions and bolstering support for democracy."
That's how ABC analyst Gary Langer starts his story on the findings of the latest ABC News/BBC/NHK poll from Iraq.
The results, he said, "represent a stunning reversal of the spiral of despair caused by Iraq's sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007. The sweeping rebound, extending initial improvements first seen a year ago, marks no less than the opportunity for a new future for Iraq and its people."
The people who wanted to cut and run from Iraq two years ago are now in charge of the war in Afghanistan.
Newly elected U.S. president Barack Obama announced his plans for Afghanistan on Friday:
- 17,000 more troops.
- Plus 4000 soldiers to train the Afghan army and police.
- And the creation of Reconstruction Opportunity Zones in the border regions from which products, including textiles, could be exported to the U.S. for 15 years (providing the union-dominated, anti-free trade Democratic Congress approves.
- The U.S. will fight Al Qaeda in Pakistan and talk with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
In an earlier briefing, a White House official told reporters that roughly two-thirds of Taliban fighters are "primarily concerned with regional issues and can be defeated or co-opted if the central government can bolster its ability to provide security and services" beyond the capital of Kabul.
Only a couple of days earlier a U.S. missile attack killed eight suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives in a stronghold of Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud. The strike destroyed two vehicles near Makeen, a town in South Waziristan. Makeen is the base of Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan.
This was the 60th Predator attack during the last three years. The New York Times has reported that the US is considering expanding its airstrike campaign from Pakistan's tribal areas into Pakistan's Baluchistan province.
There wasn't much talking going on this week in Helmand Province where the British were taking the fight to the insurgents in spectacular fashion, something we've come to expect.
Royal Navy Sea King helicopters and RAF Chinooks dropped 700 soldiers from 42 Commando, backed by Danish and Afghan troops, onto Marjah, a Taliban sanctuary a few miles from the British headquarters in Helmand. In the three days of fighting that followed the coalition forces killed 120 insurgents. Only two commandos were injured while Taliban casualties were estimated at 200 to 300 Taliban wounded. It is believed that the enemy dead included a Mullah regarded as a "high value target" by the military.
The coalition forces were supported by Dutch F16 jets, British Apache attack helicopters and American Cobra helicopter gunships, unmanned drones, Danish battle tanks, 105mm artillery guns and 81mm mortar barrels.
Marjah was known as a base for training insurgents and processing opium. The Taliban didn't want to give it up easily and reinforcements were called for from the Pakistan border 160 miles away. (Electronic eavesdropping, of course.)
A correspondent for the Sun newspaper went along and described how Royal Marines entering the Taliban bomb factory, in a school, discovered a massive booby trap that would have killed dozens of children if triggered.
"After being air-dropped on top of the enemy, they battled for up to 12 hours a day.
They then yomped several kilometres at night to stun the Taliban in surprise morning attacks," wrote the Sun's Tom Newton Dunn.
Commanding officer Lt Col Charlie Stickland said: "My guys are brilliant. We've paralysed and shocked the enemy."
We can't agree more.
And this British offensive came hot on the heels of another only days earlier by 250 soldiers to drive the Taliban from the "Snake's Belly" area of southern Helmand province. This was called "an intelligence operation." The main assault force was A Squadron 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards in heavily armed Jackal vehicles and Riflemen from 2nd Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles.
As the troops swept through the Taliban strongholds, insurgents tried to flee south on motorcycles and in pick-up trucks only to be intercepted by the Brigade Reconnaissance Force.
Lt Col Alan Richmond, Commanding Officer Battlegroup South, told one British newspaper:
"At the start of the tour we found the enemy pressing up against our Patrol Base line that protected Garmsir District Centre, in the area we call the 'Snake's Head'.
"Five months on, and after a series of operations to wrest the initiative away from the enemy and keep him constantly on the back foot, we now have to travel a long way south to find the enemy."
Oh, and this assault followed a similar operation further south earlier in March by the 42 Commando Group. Don't those guys ever sleep? Apparently not, not when they're out for revenge.
The Sun's correspondent, writing about the airdrop attack on Marajh noted: "Six-hundred commandos fought to the limit of their endurance - sleeping just two hours a night - to avenge the deaths of 32 comrades during their six-month tour."
The military machine was firing on all cyclinders in Helmand province this week.
A senior Taliban commander in northern Helmand, Maulawi Hassan, along with nine of his fighters was killed in targeted airstrike. Coalition aircraft blasted his compound in the district of Kajaki.
In an example of how honed the coalition intelligence has become, a press release from the International Security Assistance Force says Hassan "rose to prominence in the fall of 2008."
Fall to spring is a short life span for an insurgent commander who hits the NATO radar. And the Taliban is getting the message.
The ISAF identified four senior Taliban leaders, including the one Hassan reported to, who direct "insurgent activity from outside Afghanistan." following the deaths of Taliban commander Jamaluddin Hanif and a "prominent facilitor" named Maulawi Mohammed Saddiq who were killed during a March 16 airstrike in the Now Zad district of Helmand province
Helmand has been a deadly place for Taliban fighters this month. The airstrike that killed Hassan came two days after Afghan and coalition forces killed 30 Taliban insurgents in the Gereshk district. They may have to change the name of the Feared Taliban Spring Offensive to the Feared British Spring Offensive.
Another 22 Taliban fighters were captured in neighbouring Kandahar province by Afghan troops. Among the prisoners, according to press accounts, was an unnamed "famous militant figure."
The Taliban struck back by attacking poorly armed police. Nine policemen were killed at a checkpoint in Helmand province and six policemen were wounded in a Taliban ambush in Ghazni province.
But the Afghan National Police scored a win of their own mid-week with the arrests of two Taliban commanders and three of their fighters in southern Uruzgan province. And they did it with the help of local villagers, who, apparently, were unhappy at the Taliban's campaign of extortion and of threatening teachers to keep schools closed.
Checkpoints and patrols were set up along the route they were traveling and a description of their vehicle was distributed to police on the ground. Guess who drove up right on schedule.
And finally...we had to laugh. Hard and out loud.
What, you say, is so funny about a Canadian woman, kidnapped by Muslim terrorists and being threatened with beheading if somone doesn't pay a ransom in the range of $150,000?
The former Beverly Giesbrecht is from British Columbia. After 911 she converted to Islam and took the name Khadija Abdul Qahaar. She also began publishing the pro-al Qaeda, pro-Taliban, pro-jihadi Jihad Unspun site online.
Round about November, she was in Pakistan's tribal area hangin' with the Muslim homeboys on an alleged assignment from, of all agencies, Al Jazeera, when, wouldn't you know it, she got kidnapped, hijab or no hijab. She's been enjoying the hospitality of her Islamic pals ever since, although her pleas for ransom are getting shriller every week.
What's hilarious about this is a long post she made from Pakistan in September titled "KHADIJA ABDUL QAHAAR: Live From Taliban Controlled Mohmand Agency" In it she writes:
"It did not take Maulana Aziz long to get active in my project after I explained that I wanted to eat, breath and sleep with the Taliban in order to show the true face of those America's calls "terrorists".
Bwahahaha. She's seeing the true face today.
In fact, she saw the true face in September, although she didn't immediately recognize it. Her story, though, is a good picture of the enemy in Afghanistan.
Giesbrecht went to Mohmand Agency to interview someone she calls the Supreme Commander. "Mohmand Agency is the heartland of the Taliban in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan and a strategic centre for the jihad that now rages in Pakistan." she wrote.
She spent two weeks in Peshawar, Pakistan, trying to arrange a meeting with the Supreme Commander. In the interim she got conned by everyone she met. One interpreter collected a week's pay and took off in the night. Three others got her to buy sim cards and load up their cell phones and they disappeared. When the Taliban fighters made contact, she had to buy their lunches for a few days.
Her gullibility is legendary. She wrote that she had been in Pakistan making a film but that she got ripped off by several Pakistani employees "who claimed to be doing so "only for the sake of Allah" but who pilfered nearly 200,000 rupees from the budget." Still, she persisted, and finally her Taliban contacts agreed to take her to the mountains.
Here's where we learn, inadvertently, how the war looks from the other side.
The "Mujahideen" had fled in fear to the mountains that separate Mohmand and Bajaur Agencies after an American attack in the Bajaur Agency. On the drive up, their car got stuck. Then it ran out of gas. They couldn't communicate with their Taliban friends because everyone is afraid to use their cell phones except for brief moments and at night.
And everywhere they heard and saw signs of defeat.
"Emir Ullah. A man of 30, soft eyed and soft spoken, small framed yet strong featured, Emir Ullah went out of his way to show me respect. What I didn't realize at the time was that he had lost five of his own personal security guards during the past week."
"The next morning...No sooner had I finished cleaning myself I heard a large helicopter and moments later loud gunfire. As I returned to the main Madrassa area, I was told that a helicopter gunship had fired on a Taliban check post just two kilometers away and one of Emir Ullah's men had been wounded."
"When we arrived at the check point, I witnessed a truck carrying the wounded Mujahid from the attack earlier in the morning."
"Emir Ullah came with my translator to explain that the cousin of the Supreme Commander had been killed and his martyred body had just arrived at the house."
Taliban checkpoints were nothing more than shakedowns. And a helpful Taliban leader, Emir K, tried to kidnap Giesbrecht and her party after tricking them to go down the wrong road. "It was then I realized just how dangerous this teriitory really is - with rivalries between Emirs and lack of communication that can take a live in a split second."
This is the fearsome Taliban? A frightened grabbag of rival tribes as eager to rip each other off as to beg, con and rob anyone they think has money?
We hope the writer-formerly-known-as-Beverly Giesbrecht escapes with her head. She tells us so much just by being herself.