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Homeland Security

29 September 2005

U.S. Officials Warn on Global Reach of al-Qaida

Commander of U.S Iraq forces says next 75 days in Iraq are critical

Washington -- The U.S. commander with oversight responsibility for the Middle East told the Senate Armed Services Committee September 29 that even though al-Qaida poses the main regional threat, the global reach of the terrorist group’s network and its ability to inflict damage elsewhere should not be underestimated.

“These extremists are ruthless,” Army General John Abizaid said.

Key military and civilian leaders from the Defense Department testified during daylong congressional hearings about the threat al-Qaida extremists pose in the Middle East and the need to help nations in that region.

But even as al-Qaida leaders are masters of the art of intimidation, Abizaid said “they are not masters of the battlefield.”  But they are using modern technology effectively by manipulating mass media and the Internet to spread their ideology as a way to attract new recruits, he warned.

Al-Qaida’s main focus is trying to break the will of the United States and the coalition by trying to make “us think that we cannot help the people in the region help [defend] themselves against the extremist ideology,” Abizaid said.  They know that promulgating propaganda and grabbing headlines is “more important than military operations,” he added.  And, if the al-Qaida leaders ever acquire the weapons of mass destruction they have been seeking, the general said they will certainly use them just as they have used conventional explosives in London, Madrid, Spain, and other world capitals.

Defeating this kind of enemy not only requires consistent military pressure, Abizaid said, but it also requires “all elements of international and national power to put pressure throughout the network over time, in order to squeeze the ideology, defeat its sources of strength, and ultimately allow the good people of the region to have the courage and … stability to stand against this type of an organization.”  It is imperative to stabilize Iraq in order to pursue the broader campaign against the enemy that is al-Qaida, the general said.

Before the United States can begin to reduce its military presence in the Persian Gulf region, Abizaid said Afghanistan and Iraq must be stabilized, Syria and Iran should be deterred from any actions that could destabilize the region, and free flow of oil must be protected.  Any suggestion that the United States should cut its losses and pull out Iraq, he said, would result in disaster for both the region and the United States.

Outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force General Richard Myers, said the coalition effort to help Iraq become a democracy is something that never has been attempted before.  It is part of the greater strategy designed to fight and win the war against global terrorism, he said, because a defeat for al-Qaida in Iraq and the emergence of a democratic Iraq would be “so potentially stabilizing for the region.”

The commander of U.S. forces in Iraq said the next 75 days in Iraq will be critical.  Army General George Casey said the capabilities of Iraqi security forces have increased qualitatively and quantitatively.  But he also noted that a typical counterinsurgency operation lasts between nine years and 10 years.

Even though it may be a long-term proposition, Abizaid said, “We can’t walk away from this enemy, nor can we walk away from the good people of the region.”  It is clear, he said, “We will have to stabilize Iraq.”

Casey said newly trained Iraqis are being put forward to contain the insurgency as soon as they are ready.   But, under questioning by Senator John McCain (Republican from Arizona), Abizaid said there only is one Iraqi battalion that is truly ready for that mission.  Despite that assessment, Casey said ground is not being lost in the training effort and that planning still is under way that would permit the possible reduction of U.S. forces if conditions should become more favorable in 2006.

McCain warned that U.S. forces are taking a huge gamble in trying to train and transition simultaneously.  Abizaid said fighting in Iraq has moved to the west of the country and that the numbers of cross-border infiltrations are down – an indicator of good news for coalition military planners.

As further evidence of positive developments, the U.S. commanders also noted that coalition forces had killed Abu Azzam -- the alleged second in command of al-Qaida forces in Iraq – September 26. (See related article.)

Abizaid also pointed out that Iraqis are willing to fight for their country and it is important to “give them a chance” to prevail.

Abizaid, Casey, Myers and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also provided a similar assessment about current conditions in Iraq during testimony September 29 before the House Armed Services Committee.  Because not all the committee members were able to question them, the group was expected to return again another day for further testimony.

One subject that came up early in the first day’s testimony was the origin of new photographs of dead Iraqis on the Internet. Senator Edward Kennedy, a Democrat from Massachusetts, asked panel members about what he described as grisly photographs that have appeared on a pornographic Internet site – allegedly provided by U.S. military personnel.  Casey said those digital photos are not something the U.S. military condoned and action is being taken to halt that practice.

For more information about Iraq, see Iraq Update.

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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