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