A lot of people (this blog included) laughed at poor little Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, just because he didn’t know how to work the FN M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) machinegun, and C.J. Chivers at the New York Times thinks we were being unfair. He’s even found some experts he can quote defending Zarqawi.
(You know how it is: Whenever any enemy of the United States is under attack, you can count on the New York Times to come bustling to his defense.)
An effort by the American military to discredit the terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi by showing video outtakes of him fumbling with a machine gun — suggesting that he lacks real fighting skill — was questioned yesterday by retired and active American military officers…
But several veterans of wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, as well as active-duty officers, said in telephone interviews yesterday that the clips of Mr. Zarqawi’s supposed martial incompetence were unconvincing.
The weapon in question is complicated to master, and American soldiers and marines undergo many days of training to achieve the most basic competence with it. Moreover, the weapon in Mr. Zarqawi’s hands was an older variant, which makes its malfunctioning unsurprising. The veterans said Mr. Zarqawi, who had spent his years as a terrorist surrounded by simpler weapons of Soviet design, could hardly have been expected to know how to handle it…
An active-duty Special Forces colonel who served in Iraq also said that what the video showed actually had little relationship to Mr. Zarqawi’s level of terrorist skill. “Looking at the video, I enjoy it; I like that he looks kind of goofy,” said the Special Forces officer, who was granted anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on military matters. “But as a military guy, I shrug my shoulders and say: ‘Of course he doesn’t know how to use it. It’s our gun.’ He doesn’t look as stupid as they said he looks.”
Oh, is that so, now?
Well, even Zarqawi’s defenders in the Times admit that he looked awkward handling the M249 SAW, and was unfamiliar with its mechanism.
Experienced shooters undoubtedly also noticed that Zarqawi is holding that machinegun tucked under his arm, Hollywood gangster fashion, and is making no effort actually to use the gun’s sights.
“Many days of training” may be required to teach soldiers how to disassemble and reassemble such a weapon by feel in the dark, how to maintain it, repair it, and to inculcate intimate familiarity with its shooting characteristics and capabilities; but, on the other hand, all semi-automatic and full automatic weapons have in common the same kind of operating lever, used to pull back the bolt and chamber the first round, or to clear a misfed cartridge.
An “older variant” might have a greater tendency to jam, but there is no difference whatsoever in the way you clear the jam between that M248 SAW and the AK-47 or the M16, or even the Remington 1100 semi-auto shotgun you use for pheasant hunting or to shoot trap for that matter. You just do what Zarqawi’s jihadi helper did: you pull back the lever, ejecting the misfed round, and then release it to go forward and chamber another one. That is not a complicated procedure, and it works essentially identically on all semi- and full-auto weapons. Anyone basically familiar with guns could do it without assistance.
Zarqawi looked and behaved exactly like somebody who had never shot a gun in his life.
And Times’ Reporter Quivers even finds another expert to make yet another point defending Zarqawi’s honor, and to warn us to watch out about whom we speak disrespectfully.
But the retired and active officers said the public presentation of the tape did not address elements that were disturbing, rather than amusing: the weapon was probably captured from American soldiers, indicating a tactical victory for the insurgents. And Mr. Zarqawi looked clean and plump.
“I see a guy who is getting a lot of groceries and local support,” said Nick Pratt, a Marine Corps veteran and professor of terrorism studies at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Germany. “You cannot say he is a bad operator.” He added, “People should be careful who they poke fun at.”
Captured in combat? Right! Zarqawi won how many engagements against American forces? That SAW was either pre-war Iraqi army stock, looted from some military arsenal, or it just “fell off the truck” in the course of being delivered to Iraqi army or police units.
Patricia, in a comment at Tim Bair:
Can you imagine the effort it took for reporters to locate and call sympathetic ex-military and solicit quotes about what a he-man Zarqawi is? Stunning, especially for a paper that is supposedly the gold standard of world news.
That sound you hear is their stock price hitting bottom…
Confederate Yankee asks: Who do you choose to believe?
Jason at COUNTERCOLUMN goes into CNN’s echo of the Times story in detail.