The recent attack on a training camp in the Afghan/Pakistan border area is the latest attempt to take out Ayman al Zawahiri. At least one other attempt this year just missed al Zawahiri, the number two man in al Qaeda. Still, this attack is apparently a success, despite missing its target.
The strike may have missed Zawahiri by as little as half an hour. This is not surprising. Many such decapitation strikes tend to fail due to timing issues, often by a matter of minutes. However, it appears that the strike killed at least 80 terrorists in training, which is a serious loss in and of itself. The loss of the camp an even bigger blow to al Qaeda.
For al Qaeda, well-trained terrorists are a valuable, and very scarce, resource. A terrorist capable of carrying out attacks in a city like Madrid, London, or New York can take months or years to train - and they are often only used once, usually in a murder-suicide attack. In order to reach that level of training, safe places are required. The average graduate from a madrasah can't do this - since they lack the language skills and the ability to really blend in, they are, at best, suited for fighting Americans on the battlefield. Often, they turn out to be little more than cannon fodder.
Training a good foot soldier takes a while. The United States Army takes nine weeks to turn a civilian into a basic foot soldier, and then those who select infantry get several months of additional training. The Marines take thirteen weeks. This is for the basic soldier. Those who join elite units, like the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions and the Rangers, get even more training in addition to the regular infantry training.
Getting good people to train the recruits is even harder - and the loss of good instructors, is much harder to overcome. If the al Zawahiri strike killed instructors, it is still a major success even if none of the big fish have been taken out. What good are recruits if there is nobody to train them in how to fight effectively or how to make bombs safely? In the latter case, a lot more "own goals" or "work accidents" will result, sending morale spiraling down.
Consider the example of the Japanese Naval Air Force in World War II. In 1941, it was arguably the best on a pilot-for-pilot basis. However, when the training could not keep up with losses, Japan rushed things, and in 1944 came the Marianas Turkey Shoot - in which over 400 Japanese planes, mostly flown by inexperienced and poorly-trained pilots, were shot down and killed by American pilots, many of whom had learned from aces who were ordered back from the front as trainers, and who had passed on their knowledge.
Even before the war on terror, American troops had been in "combat" due to having gone through places like the National Training Center in Fort Irwin and the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk - not to mention training done at home bases. In the stand-up fights between al Qaeda terrorists and the U.S. military, the U.S. military has usually won due to superior training, in addition to having artillery and air support.
That edge will only increase due to the loss of an al Qaeda training center. There are others hidden - but coalition forces are searching for them, with the intention of taking them out, too. As these centers get taken out, al Qaeda's ability to carry out attacks will be diminished because they will not be able to train the terrorists needed to carry out attacks - not to mention running short of the trained personnel needed to keep fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. - Harold C. Hutchison (firstname.lastname@example.org)