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August 28, 2005
Releasing Terrorists From Abu Ghraib, Killing Their Travel Agent

CNN reports that the Coalition appears quite proud to announce that they have released over 1,000 detainees from Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad at the request of the Iraqi government. The statement from the Multi-National Forces sound all the right themes about sovereignty and cooperation while ignoring the risk to their soldiers that such releases have caused. However, CNN uses the announcement to bury the lead, as it appends yesterday's Centcom announcement that American forces killed a major figure assisting the movement of terrorists to the end of the article (and Confederate Yankee scooped CNN on this development yesterday):

Meanwhile, a man described as a "major facilitator of foreign fighters and suicide bombers into northern Iraq" was killed by coalition forces Thursday in Mosul, the U.S. military said Saturday.

Abu Khallad, a Saudi national, was found after intelligence sources and tips led Multi-National Forces to his location in Mosul.

"Upon arrival at that location, multi-national forces stopped his vehicle, a gunfight immediately ensured and Khallad and an unidentified terrorist were shot and killed," the military said in a written statement.

Recent detainees have said Khallad contacted recruiters in Saudi Arabia to coordinate the movement of foreign fighters and suicide bombers into northern Iraq, the military said.

This Khallad is not the same as the 9/11 and USS Cole Khallad, whose real name is Tawfiq bin Attash and has been in US custody since 2003. However, he played a key role in maintaining the flow of recruits for suicide missions in northern Iraq, causing as much havoc for our troops and recruits for the new Iraqi army as possible. Eliminating Abu Khallad removes a key node on the network, making transit more difficult for the Zarqawi network and further reducing the number of suicide attackers. That will force Zarqawi to rely even less on the one mostly-indefensible tactic that he has and require more traditional tactics -- where the better trained, better disciplined American Army and Marines can chew them to pieces.

The terrorists may find another flow of recruits, unfortunately this time brokered by the Coalition itself. They opened the gates at Abu Ghraib and over a thousand men now have the opportunity to either live law-abiding lives, or to get even for their detention:

Nearly 1,000 detainees at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison were released this week at the request of the Iraqi government, Multi-National Forces said Saturday. ...

Those chosen for release were not convicted of violent crimes, the statement said, "and all have admitted their crimes, renounced violence and pledged to be good citizens of a democratic Iraq."

Each individual case was reviewed by a combined board of Iraqi and Coalition officials, the statement said, "and decided in the light of Iraq's ongoing efforts to create peace and stability and build a brighter future for its citizens."

Let's hope that the board did its job and saw perfectly into the souls of the lucky Iraqi detainees. If they failed, then we can expect more action for our troops in recapturing the fanatics that they have already sent into captivity at least once. Lt. Colonel Eric Kurilla can give us chapter and verse on this, as Michael Yon noted earlier this week:

About two weeks ago, word came that Nohe's case had been dismissed by a judge on 7 August. The Coalition was livid. According to American officers, solid cases are continually dismissed without apparent cause. Whatever the reason, the result was that less than two weeks after his release from Abu Ghraib, Nohe was back in Mosul shooting at American soldiers.

LTC Kurilla repeatedly told me of--and I repeatedly wrote about--terrorists who get released only to cause more trouble. Kurilla talked about it almost daily. Apparently, the vigor of his protests had made him an opponent of some in the Army's Detention Facilities chain of command, but had otherwise not changed the policy. And now Kurilla lay shot and in surgery in the same operating room with one of the catch-and-release-terrorists he and other soldiers had been warning everyone about.

Kurilla ended up with several bullet wounds in the firefight, including a disabling broken femur that could have killed him. It likely means that the Army has lost Kurilla's fine services for the rest of the war, having to replace him with another commanding officer. While the specifics of that particular command transfer are unknown, the overall result usually means that command officers get progressively less experienced, on average, and that affects combat readiness.

The American armed forces train well and produce the finest officer and enlisted corps in the world, but nothing substitutes for field experience -- and Yon writes that LTC Kurilla had an uncanny sense for danger and instinctive grasp of the best tactics to apply in those situations. Those skills will be missed, and we threw them away by allowing the Iraqis to release someone we knew to be a danger to Kurilla and his men. Coming in the same week that Kurilla recovers from his serious wounds, I don't think this mass release gives us much cause to celebrate.

UPDATE 8/29: This caught the eye of our forces at Abu Ghraib. One of them, a CQ reader, responded:

Most of our guys are pure detaineescaught in the wrong place at the wrong time. In Iraq, it is also legal to detain witnesses to keep them from disappearing so some of our guys are in that category. Its not like we released 1000 proven killers.

I agree -- most of them are probably releasable. My concern is that we do not allow American domestic politics to affect military decisions on releasing prisoners in Iraq, where (as LTC Kurilla found out) those decisions have life-changing potential. The men and women in charge at Abu Ghraib cannot hope to control policy and therefore have to do the best with what they have -- which they continue to do, magnificently.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 28, 2005 8:11 AM

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Tracked on August 29, 2005 6:54 PM

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