Task Force 626, a streamlined version of Task Force 121 that captured Saddam Hussein and killed his sons, believes they are on the trail of Zarqawi. Marine Gen. Sattler divulged several weeks ago that Zarqawi was close to capture several times by the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force stations in the restive al-Anbar province, and ABC News follows up with a report that Zarqawi was nearly detained in Ramadi (hat tip to Chester):
On Feb. 20, the alleged terror mastermind was heading to a secret meeting in Ramadi, just west of Fallujah, where he used to base his operations, the official said.
Task Force 626 - the covert American military unit charged with finding Zarqawi - had troops in place to grab the fugitive, and mobile vehicle checkpoints had been established around the city's perimeter. Another U.S. official said predator drones were also in flight, tracking movements in and around the city.
A source who had been inside the Zarqawi network alerted the task force to the meeting. Officials deem the source "extremely credible."
The use of Task Force 626 should come as no surprise, as Joint Task Forces combining Special Operations Forces (Delta Teams, SEAL Teams), CIA (intelligence, paramilitary, UAV drone operators), NSA (signals intelligence), Air Force (further UAV support, close air support) and likely select British, Australian and Iraqi intelligence elements are ideally suited to gather intelligence and execute a grab.
The fact that there is someone inside the Zarqawi network is what is startling. Al Qaeda in Iraq appears to have been penetrated, no small feat as al Qaeda is traditionally a very closed and secretive organization, admitting only the most ideologically pure of the Islamists within their ranks.
The agent is likely of Arab descent, perhaps an Iraqi, as genuine cover would be needed to break into al Qaeda's inner circle. This agent may be responsible for several of the arrests of high-ranking Zarqawi lieutenants over the past several months. While Zarqawi escaped, the mission was not a complete failure, as money, a computer and two close assistants were captured in the raid:
Finding the computer, said the official, "was a seminal event." It had "a very big hard drive," the official said, and recent pictures of Zarqawi. The official said Zarqawi's driver and a bodyguard were taken into custody.
The computer will likely have a huge amount of data on al Qaedas network, based on past findings of siezed hardware. Zarqawi's driver and a bodyguard are also important catches, as their jobs descriptions constantly put them at Zarqawi's side. These are men that would know the most intimate details of his professional life: his habits, routines, and methods of operation as well as knowledge about the group's leaders, safe houses, finances and areas of operation.
The recent report of al Qaeda hiring Shiites to conduct terror attacks as well as the agent highlights a potentially interesting weakness in the Iraqi theater. The need to provide the appearance of strength and effectiveness in Iraq may be causing al Qaeda to "lower their standards" by admitting less than ideal candidates into the organization.
The Coalition can exploit this two ways. The first option would be by penetrating the group with Arabic/Iraqi agents. This is no small task as al Qaeda is an organization that thrives on competition via a trial by fire. Any agent would be required to participate in terrorist activities to rise in the ranks and provide valuable intelligence. The second option would be to turn existing members of al Qaeda with promises of amnesty, money and other means. No doubt one or perhaps both have been utilized, and this would not be possible without some degree of a lower standard of recruiting.
The official quoted in the ABC story states; "every time they capture one of his supporters, Zarqawi recruits someone new." Perhaps this is true, but Zarqawi had better be careful, as the next recruit may be the one that hands the Coalition his head.
Alamo City Commando at the San Antonio Express-News Watch Blog notes ABC's references to Zarqawi: "Jordanian rebel Abu Musab al-Zarqawi" and "the alleged terror mastermind". I must be getting numb to this idiocy.
Dadmanly has a more cerebral debate with an opponent of the Iraq War.
The Blue States Conservatives looks at a Los Angeles Hispanic television station that is marketing itself in Los Angeles,
CA Mexico. No joke.