The moment represented a contest of wills. One was a lifetime in the making; the other honed to perfection in a profession where mission success is imperative in saving, or taking, the lives of others. In the end, the outcome turned on how both perceived the value of their own lives.
For months, U.S. intelligence tracked a high-value ISIS target, Abdurakhmon Uzbeki. While only a mid-level leader in the terrorist group, he was a close confidant of its (now reportedly deceased) supreme leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Involved in fundraising activities, getting other ISIS leaders out of the group’s proclaimed capital city of Raqqa and plots against the West, Uzbeki possessed a wealth of knowledge concerning the organization’s inner workings. Thus, despite his active role in killing others, Uzbeki had great value as an informational source.
Having located Uzbeki driving in a vehicle in southeastern Syria late one afternoon last April, U.S. intelligence ordered an intercept. Its orders to Special Forces commandos were not to kill the terrorist, but, if possible, to take him alive.
As the helicopter-borne commandos intercepted Uzbeki’s vehicle, a firefight broke out. This is the moment at which the two wills came into conflict.
The commandos fully understood the importance of Uzbeki’s live capture. The information other high-value terrorist leaders provided had been immensely helpful in preventing subsequent attacks by identifying, tracking down and negating terrorist assets.
These commandos were most skilled in how best to conduct live-capture operations. This was their moment to shine. However, there would be a factor burdening the success of their mission with which the success of Uzbeki’s was unburdened.
The value of human life, particularly one’s own, is a powerful force for survival. This is why, unless one is suicidal, the will to live is a strong driver, although one that will bend under certain circumstances.
Putting one’s life in peril that April day was driven by two contrasting influences. As the commandos and Uzbeki entered into their firefight, one was driven by an overpowering will to die; the other to complete the mission and survive.
For the commandos, all knew and valued the fact they were willingly placing their lives at risk, not only to ensure the success of the capture mission but, should the need arise, to save the life of a fellow commando. While self-survival was a driving factor, it took a back seat to ensuring the survival of fellow commandos and mission success. Their every action undertaken was driven by this selfless motivation.
Contrarily, Uzbeki’s actions that day were selfish. As a Muslim completely indoctrinated by Islam’s teachings, this was Uzbeki’s time to prove his worth to Allah, avoiding Hell and gaining access to Paradise and its lustful pleasures he had long been promised awaited him.
One must recognize that Prophet Muhammad was most astute in recognizing what drives the human psyche, successfully getting one blindly to follow religious beliefs. In the seventh century, as Muhammad sought to jump-start Islam, he was preaching to uneducated Bedouins who, struggling with daily survival, were open to material motivations to believe and prosper.
These motivations came in two forms – one for this life and one for the next.
The motivation for this life was: Why struggle for material possessions when they can easily be acquired by taking them from non-believers? Muhammad taught that non-Muslims were unworthy of life – they were to be converted to Islam, if possible, but if not, were to be killed and stripped of wealth and possessions, with their wives and children taken as slaves. (Such a mindset, justifying the use of violence as a means of wealth generation rather than earning it, has stymied creative thinking amongst Muslims for generations. It is why so few patents and Nobel Prize winners, proportionately, come from among a population representing 25 percent of the world’s inhabitants.)
But the material enjoyment Muhammad promised in the afterlife is what provides the appeal to so many Muslims, as it did for Uzbeki – who ultimately died in the shootout with the commandos.
Muhammad’s teachings focused not on a spiritual afterlife but on a material one. Among promises to his warriors was that they would find themselves endowed with the stamina of a hundred mortal men so as to enjoy endless intercourse with “eternal” virgins. (One must admit while Islam hindered creativity amongst its followers, it did not seem to impair the Prophet’s.)
As the bullets began to fly that April afternoon, Uzbeki was driven not to live that day but to die, going down in a blaze of glory that supposedly assured him entry to Muhammad’s promised Paradise. It was a test of wills between the commandos preserving Uzbeki’s life and Uzbeki seeking death.
Driven by a diabolical ideology designed only to further Muhammad’s power as a prophet of Allah, Uzbeki died, weapon in hand, undoubtedly with a smile upon his face, fully believing Muhammad’s promise as to what awaited him.
Such thinking by Uzbeki heavily outweighed the likelihood of his live capture. Although failing in their primary mission, the commandos captured electronic devices, such as cell phones and computers, proved helpful in identifying and shutting down ISIS network assets that otherwise would have been used to further future attacks.
Any ideology, allowed to go unchallenged for 1,400 years as a religion, despite fostering violence against non-believers while promising material rewards both in this life and the next for believers, imposes a serious threat upon world order. Such an ideology, passed down through generations of believers and imprinted upon their DNA, also imposes an almost impossible burden upon our own warriors charged with capturing its ideologists alive.
Unfortunately, the Islamic warrior’s selfish belief is that, by leaving this life violently, he takes the final step of his journey to Paradise to reap its material rewards. More often than not, such selfish motivation will trump our warriors’ selfless motivation in trying to capture him alive.