Delta killed Abu Sayyaf. So what?
WASHINGTON - I wanted to wait for the smoke and hype to clear after the Delta Force raid that killed Abu Sayyaf and give the matter some thought before I reached any hard conclusions. I have and I’ve concluded that the raid was nothing but Hollywood showboating by an administration and a defence establishment that completely lack the stomach for a fight to the finish with the Islamic State (ISIS).
The most obvious question on hearing about this was: Why a raid when a drone strike would have killed him just as dead and with a lot less bother? From what has trickled out of the government, the story is that Abu Sayyaf had to be captured because he was a goldmine of information about things like the holding of American hostages and the sale of pirated oil by ISIS.
So, had Delta caught this guy, the government would have known how some Americans spent the last days before they were murdered as the CIA, which has a budget larger than a lot of countries, and US “elite” forces sat around, befuddled and bewildered. Great. Just great.
The government would also have known how ISIS used to sell vast quantities of oil on the black market. I don’t think there’s a person in Washington who didn’t know that, due to battlefield reverses and unbelievably cheap legitimate oil, black market oil sales by ISIS just were not a major factor in its funding anymore. Information about previous sales might have provided a chance to embarrass some bad people but, otherwise, black market ISIS oil sales are largely a matter for historians. Credible justification for the raid remains sorely lacking.
And, given that the guy was supposedly a walking intelligence bonanza, it’s surprising how little thought seems to have gone into capturing of Abu Sayyaf as opposed to killing him. Before I write another word, I feel compelled to point out that the US Department of Defense was tasked to, and Delta was sent to, capture one man — and they couldn’t even do that right.
Apparently, it had not occurred to the brain trust that planned this that if a terrorist found himself faced with armed, hostile intruders he might pick up a weapon and try to defend himself. Surprising absolutely no one outside the Defense Department, Abu Sayyaf did, leaving US commandos totally flummoxed. As with Osama bin Laden, the commandos could not come up with a better idea than to shoot him until he died.
As a result, whatever the US government hoped to get from Abu Sayyaf through interrogation, died with him. The commandos had to settle for capturing his wife. Since she is the only person they captured, she is being portrayed by the government as a veritable wellspring of sensitive terrorist information and her capture a major intelligence coup. Right.
Some computers, cell phones and documents were seized but my spine isn’t tingling with anticipation of ISIS’s doom. There was a similar haul from Abbottabad. It didn’t translate into any major compromise of al-Qaeda, though just very recently — four years after the bin Laden raid — the government breathlessly revealed that it now knows what Osama bin Laden was reading when he died. Big deal.
US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s claim that the Abu Sayyaf raid was a “significant blow” to ISIS is too ridiculous for words. As if to demonstrate how little Abu Sayyaf’s loss means to ISIS, the group almost immediately captured Ramadi in Iraq and Palmyra in Syria.
ISIS didn’t miss a beat.
This mission only demonstrated how marginal a player the United States is in the war against ISIS. This war is mostly between ISIS on one hand and the Kurds, Iraq and Syria, the latter two supported by Iran, on the other. Here and there, the United States will launch a pinprick drone strike or a flashy raid and hold self-congratulatory news conferences, but it just isn’t a serious, or even credible, player. In case anyone was wondering why Iraq seems deaf to American demands that it turn away Iranian assistance, this is why.
One question still puzzles me: Who do the Obama administration and the Department of Defense think they are fooling with stunts like this?