Hunting al-Masri; al Qaeda's Strelas (updated with video)


al-Masri.jpg

Abu Ayyub al-Masri.

Task Force 145 likely on the trail of al Qaeda leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri; al Qaeda anti-aircraft cells may be using latest version of Strelas

The Hunt for al-Masri

Coalition forces received a big break yesterday, with the arrest of a close aide to Abu Ayyu al-Masri, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq. Al-Masri's aide was captured at a gas station in Mahmoudiya, a city just south of Baghdad. The unnamed aide met al-Masri within a day of his capture.

"The al-Masri aide had confessed to meeting the terror network leader the previous day in the Mahmoudiya area, but that he could not tell investigators of his current whereabouts because he was constantly on the move," an unnamed official told the Associated Press yesterday.

Last year's successful hunt for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was conducted by Task Force 145, the hunter-killer team comprised comprised of Army Delta Operators, Navy SEALs, U.S. Army Rangers, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the Air Force's 24th Special Tactics Squadron, British Special Air Service, British paratroopers, and a host of intelligence assets.

The noose began to tighten on Zarqawi once multiple aides were killed or captured, and provided vital intelligence on his movements and behaviors. Zarqawi narrowly escapted capture in Yusifiyah during heavy battles in the region, and was finally killed in Baqubah uring an airstrike.

If news of further al-Masri aides and other senior members of al Qaeda in Iraq's Shura Majlis (executive council) are killed or captured, Task Force 145 is getting close. The killing or capture of individual IED cell leaders (the equivalent of a drug dealer in an organized crime family) or other low level functionaries does not indicate the trail is hot, however.

al Qaeda's Strelas

The SA-14 Gremlin / Strela-3. Click photo to view.

An open question as to the make and model of al Qaeda's ground to air missiles remains. We noted on Wednesday that the anti-aircraft cells may be armed with SA-7 Strelas, a first generation man portable shoulder fired anti-aircraft missile.

Sources indicate the cells may actually be using the SA-14 Gremlin (or Strela 3), which "has an improved system of overcoming countermeasures, increased range and flight altitude," according to Global Security, and was "developed for destroying low flying aircraft and helicopters." This second generation surface to air missile was developed in the late 1970s.

An intelligence source indicates "a large batch of these Strelas were transfered to al Qaeda," but would not identify the country of origin. We noted, based one multiple sources, the likelihood is Iran is providing the weapons to al Qaeda, and the timing of the activation of these cells is to close to the rise in tensions between Iran and the U.S. to be a coincidence.

Updated:

This is an al Qaeda video [released by the al-Furqan Center, the media mouthpiece for the Islamic State of Iraq] of the shoot-down of the CH-46 on February 7th in Karma. This clearly is a missile hit.





With thanks to The Jawa Report for the video.



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READER COMMENTS: "Hunting al-Masri; al Qaeda's Strelas (updated with video)"

Posted by nick at February 9, 2007 3:11 PM ET:

It seems a lot of people think AQ is getting the SAMs through Syria.

Posted by Robert Bartee at February 9, 2007 3:50 PM ET:

I think the guess of the SA-14 is a good one. The earlier versions, especially the SA-7 are virtually useless against the current version of the IRCM employeed by US helicopters.

Posted by Toad at February 9, 2007 4:35 PM ET:

Have a look at the following link to get the Israelis take on this:

http://debka.com/headline.php?hid=3820

Posted by MSgt KAP at February 9, 2007 5:51 PM ET:

Sa-14 is basically all aspect model of SA-7. A little better then SA-7. Warhead a little bigger and better range. But IRCCM will defeat Sa-14. Just pilots have to see launch to defeat. Changing threats and tactics will mitigate this threat. Helos have always been most vulnerable to MANPADS.

Posted by joe at February 9, 2007 8:25 PM ET:

Some good info. Sounds like the Israelis have good intel on Iranian operations in Iraq. Bill, what is the QW-1 is it the same as the SA-14?

I'll admit I was extremly skeptical about Iran and Al Qaeda cooperation but as more info becomes known its looking increasingly likely. I still see the big picture though. Why all the sectarian violence then? Would Al Qaeda really agree to the shia purging baghdad of the Sunni and taking all the oil resources. Huge pieces of the puzzle are still missing if this cooperation is happening.

Posted by JewishOdysseus at February 9, 2007 8:53 PM ET:

Iran cd easily provide aid to AQI posing as friendly, devout Sunnis--how many ?????s wd. AQI ask to accept such valuable weaponry?

Zarqawi hit the nail on the head 3 years ago in his famous letter to Bin-Laden--if the "filthy serpents" (Shia) gain the upper hand in Iraq, then AQI wd need to "pack their bags" and give up on Iraq. That has happened, but his successors refuse to acknowledge they are doomed. Talk about dead-men walking.

The Iranians are only too happy to help AQI, or any other Sunnis, serve as cannon-fodder against the US. The Iranians' tenacity and focus, and our timidity, have placed them in a strong posture.

Posted by Jim Rockford at February 9, 2007 9:10 PM ET:

Also on point are the political fallout from these attacks with the Strelas.

Dems and the media are pushing for "withdraw now before the unstoppable insurgency" and "peace talks" read our negotiated surrender to Iran.

You'd think with Iran supplying missiles killing our troops there would be an outcry. Instead Bill Arkin's attitude is pretty much the view in the Media and Dem party.

As to Al Qaeda and Iranian co-operation? Easy. Al Qaeda gets one more place to rule (Al Anbar) along with Afghanistan (likely promised to them by the Iranians after our withdrawal there).

Posted by joe at February 9, 2007 10:17 PM ET:

Do you think when all is said and done the oil is going shared in any national way or whatever oil is in the shiite areas the shiite keep and the same with the kurds and sunnis.

Posted by DJ Elliott at February 10, 2007 12:12 AM ET:

Joe

Primary target of AQ is the takeover of Saudi.
Iraq is the second largest proven reserves of oil.
Saudi is number one.
Everything else is periphials...

Doing a border deal giving some of Iraq (which they do not own) to Iran if they win is practical.
Especially if they plan to renig...

Posted by Richard Mahood at February 10, 2007 1:11 AM ET:

One of the marines killed on the CH-46 was the son of the man I was working with on Tuesday. Keep his family and the widow, who is also a marine, in your prayers.

God bless our soldiers, marines,sailors, and air men.

Posted by Bruce Hayden at February 10, 2007 3:53 AM ET:

It is more than the oil though. Saudi Arabia and Iran have been competing for the heart of Islam at least since the Iranian revolution that ousted the Shah. In response, the Saudis tried to encircle Iran, and, thus, we have seen the Taliban, the Pakistani nuclear weapons, and some support for Saddam Hussein, at least until he invaded Kuwait and threatened the Saudis. Also, all those relious schools they are supporting.

But all of a sudden, the geography has shifted on them. Iraq has flipped from a Sunni dominated country to a Shiite dominated one, and though the Shia are a minority in Islam, they are a majority in the heart of Islam, forming an arc now running from Iran through Iraq to Hizb'Allah in Lebannon. Add in a lot of Shia in some of the Gulf states, and the Saudis are not panicking. Not the government outwardly, but it is no surpise that the bulk of the money and a lot of the fighters supporting AQI are from Saudi Arabia. Not formally, but informally - somewhat like how the Irish here used to be the major supporters of the IRA.

The problem for the Saudis and the other Sunni Arabs is that the problem isn't going away. Iraq is not going to go back under Sunni Arab domination anytime soon, regardless of what the U.S. does. The Shia and the Kurds in Iraq like not having the Sunni Arabs over them any more, and now have the Iraqi military on their side. They have a taste of democratic government, and while that may not last, they have tasted having power commensurate with their percent of the population, and like it. A lot.

Posted by ajacksonian at February 10, 2007 8:23 AM ET:

Iran appears to be updating is SAM capability purchasing the Russian Tor-M1 which may signal a move to a better integrated air defense system overall via use of the SA-15. That will not be fully deployed for some time, if the full purchase goes through, but the view of Iran towards MANPADs may not be a rational one for an integrated air defense system, either. With the announcement by KSA to not only start putting reserve oil production on line, but that the reserve production structure is equal to that of Iranian export output, KSA is putting a deadly dagger out aimed directly at Tehran. Due to inability to manage their own internal petro-industry, Iran is starting to realize that the non-investment in their industry is causing a problem. As a defensive measure, moving procurement from terrorist support to integrated air-defense *still* means that the petro-industry is not getting sufficient investment for long-term sustainment.


With exports in question, refineries decaying, rampant use of natural gas and petroleum products at home, and announcing they may have to *buy* gasoline on the open market, Iran is now faced with KSA aiming to limit export revenues. Investing in military hardware means they do not intend on sustaining their petro-industry. What would the outlook of such a regime be to older MANPADs? Considering the demographic problems inside Iran, the unknown problems surfacing in Esfahan, and the irrationality of the regime overall, I am not convinced that the symbolic purchase of the Tor-M1 system would not put them in saying that a quantity of the older MANPADs can be distributed into Iraq and Lebanon... if not their training sites in the Balkans, South America and Chechnya. The regime may be seeing a 'use it or lose it' situation or one in which symbolism trumps action for procurement. Either way, the distribution of these systems is dangerous, in the extreme.


Syria may be a point source for distribution. They have some capability for that given their equipment inventory, plus whatever their Russian, Chinese and North Korean purchase agreements allow. Iran could easily funnel money through the moribund economy of Syria for such purchases based on some sort of 'triangular trade' concept for Syria to get benefits from being the middle-man. This, effectively, puts Iranian purchases off the map and makes them untraceable via Syria, which is how they are getting some of their dual use technology and other arms and armaments, mostly for Hezbollah but also for use in western Iraq.


As for AQ working with Iran, the rumor has been that Iran has supplied medical technology and doctors for AQ and provided technical overhead for video production. Some AQ members from Pakistan/Afghanistan were noted as being in Iran as far back as 2001 and some small groups fled into Iran from the Afghan conflict. Much of that is of relatively low assurance INTEL, but multiple reports that predate conflicts in Afghanistan and Iran point to this, along with AQKSA and Hezbollah-KSA working together for terrorist attacks there. They may be working together on the 'common enemy basis' now and then be willing to fight each other once the enemy is put to its heels. And by gaining sympathizers inside Iran and in some Shia areas of Iraq, AQ would then turn the insurgency *on* Iran from inside Iran, Iraq, and from Pakistan and possibly even in Chechnya. An extended Iran unable to cover its cash-flow basis is a weak Iran ready for its other underlying problems to be used against it: oil infrastructure and demographics along with tribal/ethnic/political/religious divisions. That is AQ's method of operations for the long haul.

Posted by RJ at February 10, 2007 8:37 AM ET:

Finally, our enemies have introduced another higher value weapon. Surely our "leaders" knew this too was coming... Our repsonse is important. I noted on that video the wonderful singing...perhaps we could get some video from one of their funerals for fallen comrades and compare the sweet singing of that event! I see smallpox coming on an American plane sooner, rather than later. If we don't rachet up this war to a more painful-for our enemies-level, then we are most certainly destined to receive more pain in our immediate lives. I want to win this war, not lose it!

Posted by Pierre at February 10, 2007 9:28 AM ET:

If we don't ratchet up this war to a more painful-for our enemies-level, then we are most certainly destined to receive more pain in our immediate lives.

The only way this war will be "ratcheted" up is if the people take it into their own hands. Our government is committed to a limited war with all the disastrous implications that follow from that absurd strategy.

But before law abiding citizens take that step another attack on the United States will occur. Our Government will again moderate our anger and spend nearly as much time mollifying the public as it does half heartedly going after the low hanging fruit it will declare as our enemy. Never once approaching the true nature of the war since admitting that is difficult even for the most hawkish amongst us. But sooner or later we will admit to ourselves that Islam is again at war with civilization. As it was through most of its history.

After the next attack, while the ashes of NYC or some other great city are still smoking, the people in the United States will watch for our Governments response. I predict that if we see the same sort of staged "Islam is the Religion of Peace" nonsense that our Government will be forced to resign and a Government not apologetic in our defense will be installed.

When we have 2003 polls in Indonesia that show a supposedly moderate Islamic state with nearly 56% of the people supporting Bin Laden we have a larger problem than a few radicals who have hijacked Islam.

This would be terrible...the death and loss of life amongst innocents would be horrendous. Both in this country and in those countries that would fall under our attack. That is why I am so angry that we are waffling around right now with those countries most likely to enable the destruction of a US City.

Posted by Cmdr. Subfleet at February 10, 2007 2:50 PM ET:

What is it with these Jihadis and cameras. None of them can take a decent photo or video. Also, it seems as if the pilot of Chinook had made an attempt at an emergency landing immediately after being hit, they might have survived.

We need to put a serious stomping on the Iraqi tribes that are involved with AQI and the Sadrists, as well as the Iranians. Why are we screwing around with these people. Flatten the place.

Posted by Richard at February 10, 2007 3:22 PM ET:

This is the first time I've watched a video provided by terrorists. I'm surprised how sick and angry the celebratory music made me.

Posted by AMac at February 10, 2007 11:38 PM ET:

Strelas? Did you say that the SAMs that AQIZ is using are Russian-designed and possibly Iranian-supplied Strela SA-7s and SA-14s?

I don't trust that Intraweb thing that you all seem to rely on. I believe in getting information from unbiased articles published in newspapers with four layers of fact-checking.

As it happens, my hometown Baltimore Sun had the in-depth report Flying Iraq's deadly skies on page A1 on February 8th. In it, I learned that there are "4,000 to 5,000 increasingly sophisticated surface-to-air missiles in the hands of insurgents via the international arms markets, analysts say."

Which SAMs? The only specific offered in the lengthy article is

[In 1989,] the Soviet army retreated from Afghanistan after suffering devastating helicopter losses from shoulder-fired Stinger missiles. The CIA reportedly supplied about 2,000 of the heat-seeking missiles to Afghan insurgents, and while there have been attempts to buy them back, there has been no public accounting of what happened to them.
In other words, it's classic blowback! U.S. helicopters are being shot down by U.S. supplied missiles! At least, that seems to be what the Sun is inviting me to conclude. I'm sure if there was credible information about Strelas, reporter David Wood would have included it in this front pager. Even if that made the story inconvenient for the paper's editorial line. Even if that made some readers suspicious of the policies of neighboring countries. Like Iran.

As John Edwards is fond of saying, "There are two Americas".

One of them relies on the mainstream media for all of its news. People living in that America would be mighty perplexed if they ever ran across this web-log.

Posted by DJ Elliott at February 11, 2007 2:07 AM ET:

AMac

The few stingers remaining that were provided Afghan, that were not fired in the 80s, are past shelf-life.
Weapons do not last forever and unless stored in AC the propelent becomes unstable.
If they are firing 1980s stingers not stored in climate control, they are likely to blow themselves up...

Posted by AMac at February 11, 2007 9:10 AM ET:

DJ Elliott,

Those pesky facts... I guess you won't be writing for the Baltimore Sun any time soon.

Posted by DJ Elliott at February 11, 2007 12:30 PM ET:

AMac
The reason Bill does so well and has a following is he has the military background and experience to report accurately on the subject.

The press seem to think military experience contaminates them vice providing them with background/experience to report accurately.

Me. I am a retired spook. And as they say: "The devil is in the details".