Chris Geis: The story led to an attack on the leader of Al-Qaeda | Columnists

The events that led to the murder of the leader of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan began 32 years ago last week.

On August 2, 1990, Iraq, led by Saddam Hussein, invaded its southern neighbor, Kuwait, a small, wealthy state in the Persian Gulf. Iraqi forces drove through the desert for two hours before reaching Kuwait City, the capital, along the coast. Saddam called it an “annexation”. The Iraqis executed Kuwaitis and plundered the country of money and treasures.

Kuwait was responsible for much of the world’s oil production. Iraq immediately took control of it. With the money from oil sales, Saddam could develop a bigger and better army, dominate the Arab world, have a say in the global economy, and possibly obtain nuclear weapons.

After taking Kuwait, Iraq was about to march across the desert to Saudi Arabia, which had even more oil. At the time, the Iraqi army was the fourth largest in the world and Saudi Arabia could be powerless against it. Nothing stood between Kuwait City and the oil fields of eastern Saudi Arabia.

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The United States would not tolerate such a risk. President George HW Bush, with the support of the West and most of the Arab world, sent troops to Saudi Arabia and decided to expel Iraq from Kuwait. He assembled a broad coalition, and in a six-week blitz in January and February 1991, Kuwait was liberated.

Fifteen years later, as I was deployed to Kuwait as a US Navy officer at the height of another war with Iraq, I could still see the physical damage of that conflict.

Now, how did this 1991 war lead to the murder last week of Ayman al-Zawahri in Afghanistan?

Al-Zawahri was al-Qaeda’s No. 2 man after Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden, a wealthy Saudi and fundamentalist Muslim, believed that no non-Muslim should set foot in Saudi Arabia, which is holy ground for Muslims. He urged the Saudi government to reject the US offer to protect the oil fields, but was rebuffed.

The presence of US forces on Saudi soil might have proved a brief irritant, but it continued even after the war as a deterrent to Saddam. Bin Laden used it to galvanize fundamentalist Muslims who wanted to fight the West, and he created al-Qaeda. If the United States hadn’t stayed in Saudi Arabia, it’s unlikely he would have focused so much on America or garnered the same zealous interest from his supporters. His previous interest was to expel the Russians from Afghanistan.

He launched a series of terrorist attacks against the United States, including the 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole, an American warship, in a port in Yemen. Seventeen American sailors were killed.

He wanted to provoke a conflict with America, the big devil, and drive it out of the holy lands, which Saudi Arabia controls for the Muslim world. (The highway that crosses the desert from Kuwait to Saudi Arabia is the route of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. The Two Holy Mosques are in Mecca, where Muhammad was born, and in Medina, where he died. non-Muslims are not allowed to enter either city.)

Bin Laden moved to Afghanistan, where he was protected by the Taliban, which seized power in 1997. There he and al-Zawahri planned the September 11, 2001 attacks, which launched the US intervention in Afghanistan.

It was only last year that the United States left Afghanistan. The Taliban regain power and al-Zawahri takes refuge in Kabul with the blessing of the government.

He was killed by a US drone strike last weekend at his home. As an old Navy friend put it, “Twenty-one years later, the guy thinks it’s safe to get a liter of milk from the store and boom! Sayonara, al-Zawahri.

History is full of counter-factual propositions. We don’t know what would have happened if the United States had left Saudi Arabia after the war in 1991. The decision to expel Iraq from Kuwait was the right one. But, if we had left Saudi Arabia, al-Qaeda would not have had the raison d’etre to become what it has become. That would have meant no 9/11 and no war in Afghanistan, and it could mean poor old al-Zawahri would be alive today, fighting other infidels.

Instead, he got his martyrdom. Sometimes you get what you deserve, even if the schedule is delayed.

Chris Geis is a Winston-Salem attorney and a retired commander of the US Naval Reserve.

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