The Army Times’ Sean Naylor has a fascinating article on Task Force 145, which has replaced Task Force 626 and 121, and the hunt for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, which I have summarized below:
– Zarqawi was nearly captured in Yusufiyah by Special Operations Forces nine days prior to the release of his videotape. Segments of the Zarqawi’s newly released video were uncovered, and Mr. Naylor intimates the insurgent preparing to fire a rocket and was subsequently killed by small arms fire (or more likely sniper fire) was preparing to fire a MANPADS surface-to-air missile.
– TF-145 is 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, and British paratroopers. Left out are the myriad of intelligence assets likely assigned to TF-145. TF-145 is split up into four regional commands: West, North, South and Black.
– “The O-5 [Lieutenant Colonel] commander of each task force can authorize a raid without seeking TF 145 approval.” Operational tempo is high with over one raid per day being conducted per command, sometimes even higher.
– The article provides extensive details on the near capture of Zarqawi in February of 2005. Zarqawi was able to barrel through a check point as Rangers were unable to fire due to the strict Rules of Engagement (ROE).
– “Zarqawi has become a higher priority for JSOC than capturing al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and his right-hand man, Ayman al-Zawahiri…” “Who’s the biggest threat right now?” the source said. “In military terms, bin Laden has been neutralized. He’s not going anywhere. He can’t really move. His communications are shallow. Zarqawi is a bigger threat.”
– TF-145 believes it has eviscerated Zarqawi’s network of foreign commanders, and Zarqawi now relies on Iraqis to provide the leadership. “The foreign terrorists still coming into Iraq from Syria, he said, ‘are suicide bombers only ‘Muslims on Spring Break.’ They come in through Syria, get a week of training – ‘Here, this is an RPG’ – come down and strap a bomb on them.'”
– Zarqawi’s plan is to field an army capable of conventional operations and geared to “launch coordinated attacks against major coalition facilities.”
– Zarqawi is operating training camps in Syria and Iran, with the knowledge of these governments. Hezbollah is providing operational training. “JSOC knew of insurgent training camps in both Syria and Iran that TF 145 could hit, the source said, but “politics” had kept the task force from launching cross-border missions.”
– Zarqawi is viewed as a skilled tactical and operational commander, who is willing to take risks and leaders from the front.
– Lieutenant General Stan McChrystal, the Joint Special Operations Commander, is quoted as saying “We must increasingly be a force of totally focused counter-terrorists.”
The rules of engagement seem to have been relaxed in the hunt for Zarqawi, as the regional commands have greater flexibility in conducting raids and no longer seek approval from high command. The risk averse military lawyers may have been pushed aside as the operational need to kill or capture Zarqawi and senior al Qaeda in Iraq has taken precedence over legal niceties.
The training in Syria and Iran further dispels the myth that Shiite and Sunni terrorist groups, and secular governments and Islamist terrorists could never work together.
There is evidence that Zarqawi may already be fielding conventional combat units. The recent large scale assaults on an Army headquarters in Baqubah, and on police stations in Miqdadiyah, Madain and Haswa look to be conventional al Qaeda operations. Al Qaeda in Iraq also conduct ed large scale assaults against Camp Gannon and Abu Ghraib in the spring 2005. Only the Miqdadiyah assault was successful, and the rest of the attacks cause high attrition rates for the al Qaeda assault element. Each attack was a successful propaganda operation, however.
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