Democrats on Capitol Hill last week could not defend remarks by Rep. John Murtha (D.-Pa.), their party’s leading advocate of withdrawing from Iraq, who claimed on CNN that the operation that resulted in the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi could have been carried out without U.S. troops on the ground.
The U.S. military action involved far more than merely bombing Zarqawi’s hideout.
On June 8, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell first described the operation in a nationally televised briefing. "What everybody needs to understand is the strike last night did not occur in a 24-hour period," said Gen. Caldwell. "It truly was a very long, painstaking, deliberate exploitation of intelligence, information gathering, human sources, electronic signal intelligence that was done over … many, many weeks, that led us last night to that target."
"Immediately after killing Zarqawi," Caldwell said, "we then conducted 17 simultaneous raids within Baghdad proper and just on the outskirts." Those raids led to a "treasure trove" of intelligence that is "presently being exploited and utilized for further use."
That night on CNN, Murtha told anchor John Roberts: "Now, this could have happened from the outside. People say, you see, we stayed in there. No, this was from the air, two bombs were dropped. So there’s no question — from an F-16. So there’s no question about this, it could have happened from outside."
I asked congressional Democrats last week if they agreed with Murtha.
House Intelligence Chairman Pete Hoekstra (R.-Mich.) characterized Murtha’s statement on CNN as "a very strange and funny observation."
At the same time they killed Zarqawi, U.S. forces rolled up 17 al Qaeda sites and arrested 25 people. Mr. Murtha on CNN said last week that that still could have been conducted even without U.S. troops on the ground—
Rep. John Boehner (R.-Ohio): That what?
Mr. Murtha said Zarqawi could have been gotten without U.S. presence on the ground on CNN last week. Is that argument even plausible?
Boehner: We have done a very good job of training Iraqi troops and not only training them, but helping them become effective forces and developing effective leaders. But I think that our presence there is critical to the success of the new Iraqi government and the ability of their security forces to rise to a level of being able to maintain peace in Iraq. We are not there yet.
Did they need our troops on the ground to get Zarqawi?
Boehner: I don’t know that I would be the expert in trying to answer that question. I doubt that we would have gotten him without the troops.
At the same time Zarqawi was killed, U.S. forces rolled up 17 al Qaeda sites and arrested 25 people. John Murtha was on CNN last week … and he said this could have been done without U.S. troops on the ground. Do you think this is plausible?
Sen. Susan Collins (R.-Maine): I’m dubious about that. I suspect, although I don’t know, it was our troops’ exploiting documents and other seized information that helped lead us to the ability to make the rest of these arrests.
So, we needed the troops to get Zarqawi?
Collins: Right. Yes, yes.
At the same time they killed Zarqawi, U.S. forces rolled up 17 al Qaeda sites and arrested 25 people. Mr. Murtha on CNN said last week that this could have been done without troops on the ground. Do you think this is plausible?
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D.-Calif.): Do I think what’s plausible?
That we could have gotten Zarqawi and made these arrests without U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq.
Feinstein: I think it’s unlikely.
So, you support the fact that we have them [troops] there and got Zarqawi?
Feinstein: I support the fact we got Zarqawi.
At the same time they killed Zarqawi, U.S. forces rolled up 17 al Qaeda locations and arrested 25 people. Now, Mr. Murtha on CNN said last week that this could have been done without U.S. ground troops, boots on the ground. Do you think this is even plausible?
Pete Hoekstra (R.-Mich.): That what could have been done?
That we could have gotten Zarqawi, made those arrests. He was saying that because we just dropped a bomb on it, we didn’t need the troops.
Hoekstra: You need to find out where he is. Okay? You cannot, you cannot run a sanitized war. I’m not in the business of defining that serviceman fighting on the ground is more of an asset, or a resource to us than a guy who is 30,000 feet in the air. They are both in a combat zone. And there is a reason you have an Air Force, there is a reason you have combat forces on the ground, and that is because they work together to execute a battle plan. They are both in harm’s way. I think it’s a very strange and funny observation.
On his part?
Hoekstra: Yeah. Yeah.
The alternative would be, I mean, do you just carpet bomb the country? I don’t think that would go over well.
Hoekstra: That’s right. Like I said, if it’s all about keeping American soldiers out of harm’s way, then fire missiles from 400 miles away. But even in that, there is a risk. If you’re sending, or firing missiles, there is a risk to our troops. You need to align the troops where they can do the most good.
At the same time Zarqawi was killed, U.S. forces took on 17 al Qaeda sites and arrested 25 people. Rep. John Murtha said on CNN last week that this could have been done without U.S. troops on the ground. Do you think this is plausible?
Sen. Carl Levin (D.-Mich.): I’d have to see what the basis of his statement is as to whether or not the Iraqi forces are in that, could have done that without, I’d have to see his evidence before I could give you a judgment.
The Pentagon says at the same time they killed Zarqawi they rolled up 17 different sites and made 25 arrests. John Murtha went on CNN last week and said this operation could have been conducted without troops on the ground. Is this a plausible statement to make?
Rep. Ike Skelton (D.-Mo.): I don’t know. I don’t know. I have not been briefed on it. I don’t know. I’m very pleased they got him, and he was as you know part of the al Qaeda group which is helping the Sunni insurgents.
At the same time Zarqawi was killed, U.S. forces took on 17 al Qaeda sites and arrested 25 people. Then, Mr. Murtha went on CNN and said he believed those actions could have been done without troops on the ground. Do you agree?
Rep. Vic Snyder (D.-Ark.): I personally see no value in second-guessing a successful story. I mean, it was a very successful mission, and I have nothing but praise for the troops and for the leadership for making it happen.
But if we redeploy our troops, can we still be conducting operations like that if we pull the troops out?
Snyder: I think those are excellent questions. I think those are the kind of questions we need to be having, and that’s why I’m not as quick as some of my colleagues for setting some kind of date for redeployment because it just leads to a whole series of questions. When you get intelligence like that, you know if you redeploy over the hill and you get some CNN reporter that says, "I just saw the No. 2 guy for al Qaeda walking down the streets of Baghdad," do you immediately go storming back in and then leave? And then three days later you say the same thing? I don’t know how that’s all going to work out. Eventually that will be what happens. Eventually we will redeploy some place sitting back some place and be available to the Iraqi military, if their government wants us to assist them. The timing of that, I don’t see how we can talk about that being over the next few months until we do a better job of equipping the Iraqi army.
The Pentagon said at the same time Zarqawi was killed, they conducted 17 operations and arrested 25 people. Then, Mr. Murtha went on CNN and said that he believed those operations could have been conducted without troops on the ground. Do you agree with his assessment?
Rep. William Delahunt (D.-Mass.): I honestly don’t know. I do know however that it has been reported that Zarqawi had been identified early on that the White House was informed by the military—
Was this months ago?
Delahunt: No, this was years ago. And they made the decision not to strike, because if they did that, it could have impaired and hurt the building of their coalition prior to the invasion of Iraq. This occurred before Iraq. They could have taken him out, they knew he was a terrorist.