Osama bin Laden may have been the most notorious face of al-Qaeda before his death, but a terrorist by the name of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi arguably had far more blood on his hands—and for years was enemy number one for the United States government. Running the al-Qaeda franchise in Iraq, Zarqawi and his followers usurped the Sunni insurgency and through vicious attacks on Iraqi civilians stoked a civil war pitting Sunnis and Shiites against each other. His damage was so great that even after American special operators, intelligence experts and Air Force pilots successfully tracked down and killed Zarqawi in June 2006, General Stanley McChrystal wrote in his newly published memoir My Share of the Task (Penguin Group USA, 2013) that it was “too late. He bequeathed Iraq a sectarian paranoia and an incipient civil war.” Nevertheless, the special operations machine built to defeat Zarqawi’s network continued to run full tilt, eventually having a strategic impact when married to the full-spectrum counterinsurgency and diplomatic pressures of “the surge.”
On January 28, the 21st Century Defense Initiative at Brookings hosted a discussion featuring a keynote address by General Stanley A. McChrystal (ret.) that will, for the first time, focus on this crucial part of his career and the careers of so many who worked with him. The story of how Joint Special Operations Command, working with many other agencies and nations, built itself into a powerful network capable of studying, tracking, hunting, and finally killing Zarqawi is at the heart General Stanley McChrystal’s memoir.
Brookings Senior Fellow Michael O’Hanlon, director of research for Foreign Policy at Brookings, provided introductory remarks. Brookings Senior Fellow Bruce Riedel, a 30-year veteran of the CIA, interviewed General McChrystal, before moderating a discussion with the audience.