HERNDON, Va., May 15 (UPI) -- It was Feb. 25, 1991. The sun was yet to rise on the second day of the Gulf War's ground offensive. Just before daybreak, there was a surprise encounter between one U.S. Marine tank company and three Iraqi tank companies. The ensuing battle involved top-of-the-line tanks on both sides -- the Marines equipped with the M1 Abrams, the Iraqis with Russian T-72s. It was the first time the two tanks confronted each other on the battlefield.
Although outnumbered 3-to-1, by the time the shooting stopped, the Marines had destroyed 35 of 36 enemy tanks without the loss of a single M1.
As the desert sun rose, it revealed a battlefield full of burning T-72 tank hulks. The moaning of the wounded surviving Iraqi tank crew members could be heard. An Iraqi lieutenant, hands raised, slowly approached the lead Marine tank. He inquired as to which branch of the U.S. military the tank company belonged. When told "we are Marines," the Iraqi lieutenant became visibly shaken.
Nervously, he pleaded, "If I bring my wounded up, do you promise not to kill them?" Stunned by the query, the Marines assured the lieutenant his men would be treated humanely.
Later that day, after the Iraqi wounded received medical care and were fed, their lieutenant was asked why he feared his men would be killed. He explained he had been told that to join the U.S. Marine Corps one had to demonstrate his loyalty by killing a relative. The lieutenant's concern was, if killing a loved one was a loyalty test, then Marines wouldn't hesitate to kill prisoners as well.
Obviously, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's propaganda machine had generated this tale to discourage his own troops from surrendering. But the story couldn't help but generate a chuckle among the few and the proud Marines who heard it.
However, what is disconcerting is to know such a standard does exist within the warrior community we fight today.
It was a combination of U.S. and Saudi intelligence work that uncovered the latest terrorist plot seeking to target a U.S. commercial aircraft, this time with a more sophisticated and harder-to-detect underwear bomb.
Fortunately, we again were one move ahead in the chess match we are playing with al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, as that group mounted yet another failed effort to strike out at the United States.
AQAP was the same group responsible for the failed 2009 Christmas Day underwear bomber attack on a U.S. airliner and the failed 2010 effort to place printer cartridges laden with explosives onboard cargo planes.
The master bombmaker in all three cases was Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, 30, a Saudi, operating out of Yemen. He is a highly skilled and self-taught (via manuals and the Internet) explosives expert who is determined to pull off a successful attack against the United States.
Asiri proved his loyalty to AQAP by engaging his own brother, Abdullah, to be a suicide bomber. Donning an explosive device designed by Asiri, Abdullah was to assassinate a member of the Saudi royal family -- Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the deputy minister of the Interior.
In August 2009, to gain access to the prince, Abdullah claimed he was defecting but would surrender only to the prince. The body search given Abdullah before seeing the prince failed to discover the explosive device hidden in his underwear.
Gaining access, Abdullah told Prince Nayef other AQAP members were ready to defect; they simply awaited Nayef's call to a cell number to assure them safe passage. That call achieved the wireless connection by which the explosive device was detonated. Abdullah was killed instantly; the prince was slightly injured.
To test his "Fruit of the Boom" underwear device, Asiri apparently felt it necessary to sacrifice his own brother to determine its ability to pass undetected through security. Abdullah's successful security penetration gave Asiri the confidence his device could get through airport security -- leading him to plan the December 2009 bombing attempt, which only failed due to its detonator.
Asiri's willingness to sacrifice his own brother underscores his determination to successfully strike the United States. His latest technological breakthrough -- a non-metallic explosive device with an advanced detonator superior to anything else ever fielded -- demonstrates he is closer to getting there.
U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., has described Asiri as "an evil genius." That evil ingenuity was obvious in the 2010 bombing attempt as it took security officials -- who knew to look for an explosive device -- nine inspections to locate it. Asiri's achievements in miniaturizing bombs to make them less detectable are impressive. It is no wonder AQAP considers him to be "a treasure that cannot be lost."
Similarly, stepped up U.S. drone attacks against AQAP in Yemen underscore the importance placed on disrupting the terrorist organization and eliminating Asiri.
Understanding his vulnerability due to the heavy toll drones have taken on al-Qaida's leadership, Asiri is reportedly at work developing clones capable of replacing him in the event he is neutralized.
There is something most telling about Asiri and the war we are fighting against those with his mindset. No other case in the history of warfare comes to mind where a blood brother personally sends another on a suicide mission which, due to its very nature, leaves no possible chance for survival.
There is a chilling message to be taken from such a mindset that numbs the soul to in which one brother guiltlessly kills another who willingly accepts death -- both for the love of fanatical Islam: The war we are fighting is not one of years; it is one of generations.
(James. G. Zumwalt is a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer who heads Admiral Zumwalt and Consultants, Inc. He is author of "Bare Feet, Iron Will -- Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam's Battlefields" and the e-book "Living the Juche Lie -- North Korea's Kim Dynasty.")
(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)