US forces capture key Zarqawi commander

Coalition forces captured a senior al Qaeda in Iraq leader during a raid in Mosul. Following on the heals of the arrests of middlemen Abed & Raed Suleiman, Hussayn Ibrahim and Jassim al-Bazi, and 11 Zarqawi operatives in Spain, the Coalition special operations forces nabbed Abu Talha, a senior aide to Zarqawi. .

Abu Talha is one of the major leaders of the al Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Islam, a senior commander in al Qaeda in Iraq, and has been thought of a possible successor to Zarqawi. According to CENCTCOM; “Talha never stayed more than one night at any one residence, and always wore a suicide vest, saying he would never surrender.” He gave up without a fight.

Fugitive terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s “most trusted operations agent” in Iraq was captured without incident two days ago in the northern city of Mosul, the U.S. military said in an e-mailed statement today.

The operative, identified as Muhammad Khalaf Shakar, and known as Abu Talha, was found after intelligence sources pinpointed his location in the city, according to the statement. Abu Talha is “fully cooperating” with U.S. and Iraqi officials, the statement said.

There has been a concerted effort to destroy his organization, as the recent arrests of Abu Ahmed, Abu Raad and Agha Abu Dawoud demonstrate. Abu Talha’s arrest was likely result of the recently arrested operatives of his organization.

Coalition forces have recently stepped up operations in the region and have shifted 4,000 American troops and and undisclosed number of accompanying Iraqi forces to Mosul – Tal Afar. Abu Talha was an important operator in northern Iraq, and his base of operations was Mosul. A fully cooperating Talha will yield valuable intelligence on al Qaeda, and may force many terrorists to modify their operations and uproot to evade capture.

His capture puts the number of known senior al Qaeda in Iraq leaders killed or captured at about 70%, and forces a younger, inexperienced fighter and leader with fewer ties to the organization to take his place.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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