- The Washington Times - Friday, March 7, 2003

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, thought to have been the mastermind of the September 11 hijackings, was captured in a pre-dawn raid last week by agents of the Pakistani Interservice Intelligence organization (ISI) and the American FBI.
Mohammed has been under indictment in the United States since 1996 for his role in an aborted plan to hijack U.S. airliners in the Pacific.
His capture puts the lie to the notion that the focus of President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair on regime change in Iraq is a distraction from the war on terrorism. The pursuit of individual terrorists, and the neutralization of terrorism-supporting nations can, must and is being pursued simultaneously.
Even before Mohammed's capture, the United States and its allies have made significant progress in disrupting al Qaeda and associated terror networks.
An al Qaeda network in Europe has been rolled up. The leader of the vicious Abu Sayyaf group in the Philippines has been killed. Abu Zubaida, then the No. 3 man in al Qaeda, was captured in Pakistan last year. Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, thought to have been the mastermind of the bombing of the USS Cole, was killed in Yemen. Each week the number grows larger.
Capturing Mohammed may be a bigger step toward victory than even would be the capture of Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden is the political head of al Qaeda. Mohammed was its operations chief. In other words, Jefferson Davis is still at large, but we have Robert E. Lee in custody.
Many including me have criticized the president for not doing enough fast enough about homeland security. But we have not had a major terrorist attack here since September 11. Doubtless, we've been lucky. The terrorists may be weaker than we thought, or may just be biding their time. But our security people must also be doing something right.
People who argue that war with Iraq would be a distraction from the war on terrorism are idiots, or think ordinary Americans are. The hunt for individual terrorists is chiefly an intelligence and law-enforcement activity. Producing regime change in terrorist states is chiefly a military activity. There is little overlap between them.
Armored divisions and aircraft carriers and stealth bombers are swell things to have, but they were of little use in tracking down Mohammed in the slums of Rawalpindi. The maximum overlap between the hunt for al Qaeda members and the pursuit of regime change in Iraq is probably about a battalion of special forces, who otherwise would be pursuing al Qaeda elsewhere in the Mideast but who currently are focused on Iraq.
The redirection of that battalion is hardly wasted. There probably are more al Qaeda hiding out in the frontier regions of Pakistan than anywhere else in the world. But, as the capture of Mohammed indicates, it is getting hot for them there. After Pakistan, there are more al Qaeda in Iran and Iraq than anywhere else. The difference is that while the government in Pakistan is, at least fitfully, hunting them, the governments of Iran and Iraq are providing sanctuary.
Terrorist organizations like al Qaeda can exist without state support. But they cannot be very dangerous without it. Terrorists need money, forged documents, weapons and explosives, training and places to train. Hezbollah in Lebanon has about 10,000 122 mm Katyusha rockets. You can't buy these in a Wal Mart, or transport them without the assistance of a compliant government. Without state sponsors in Iraq, Iran and Syria, al Qaeda and Hezbollah would be little more dangerous than the Red Brigades were in Italy 20 years ago, than Aum Shinri kyo was in Japan a decade ago.
The coming battle with Iraq is Stalingrad for the terrorist chieftains. If they lose it, they're toast, and they know it.
If Saddam Hussein is ousted, the terrorists will lose arguably their No. 1 state sponsor; land communication between Iran and Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon will be broken; Iran will be surrounded by secular, pro-Western Muslim states and be ripe for regime change from within. Syria and Libya will become more nervous about sheltering terrorists.
The fight against Saddam Hussein isn't a distraction from the war on terror. It is the main event.

Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration and is national security writer for the Pittsburgh (Pa.) Post-Gazette.

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