Task Force 145 may have struck again in Samarra

Suspected locations of raids on al Qaeda cells. Click to Enlarge.

Over the past month, Task Force 145, the special operations unit designated to hunt Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and other high value al Qaeda targets, has dismantled al Qaeda cells in the cities of Yusifiyah and Balad. It appears Task Force 145 has struck at two more al Qaeda cells and killed a senior member of Ansar al-Islam over the weekend. On Friday, two al Qaeda cells were dismantled near the city of Samarra.

On Saturday, Ali Wali (a.k.a. Abbas bin Farnas bin Qafqa) who is described as “Ansar al-Islam’s military command responsible for training and military operations including the planning of suicide operations, ambushes and kidnappings… an expert in the implementation of explosives as well as in the use of artillery, tanks and anti-aircraft weapons… and allegedly was an expert in toxins and poisons.” CENTCOM provides a time line of Ali Wali’s history:

1986: Ali Wali lived in Afghanistan, where he received training and instructed on military tactics for over a decade; Prior to 1998: Ali Wali was a member of the Islamic Unity Movement of Kurdistan;

1998-2001: Ali Wali, having moved to northern Iraq, provided instruction in terrorist tactics, explosives and weapons handling to Ansar al-Islam members;

2001: Ali Wali was imprisoned for about three months while returning to Iraq from Afghanistan for false documentation; and

2002: Ansar al-Islam members, including Ali Wali, were allegedly manufacturing liquid containing “poisons” in northern Iraq.

Task Force 145 was not identified as the unit conducting the Samarra strikes, but U.S. Central Command rarely discusses the actions of special operations forces. The target of the operation, the lack of disclosure of the unit and the vagueness on details such as the supporting aircraft used point to a special operations strike. The CENTCOM press release provides the details of the raid. It is believed a senior al Qaeda in Iraq commander was detained in this series of raids:

As the troops moved to intercept a vehicle occupied by three suspected al-Qaida associates, the assault force simultaneously took small arms fire from a nearby house. While the troops positioned to stop the car, armed men exited the house, two carrying shoulder-fired rocket launchers and one firing a light machine gun. The forces quickly neutralized the threat emanating from the structure, located approximately 20 kilometers southwest of Samarra, with small arms and rockets fired from supporting aircraft.

The troops then detained the three suspects located in the vehicle, finding two AK-47s, ammunition, two improvised grenades and one hand grenade. The forces were then provided another location of a second, related vehicle occupied by suspected al-Qaida associates; two more detainees were taken after the troops stopped the vehicle approximately 15 kilometers east of the first intercepted automobile. Troops later searched the safe house discovering mortar rounds and grenades. One of the five suspects detained is believed to be a senior al-Qaida associate. All are currently being questioned for their level and involvement in terrorist activity.

This operation appears to have been directed by specific intelligence on the first cell. The intelligence exploited members captured in the first cell led to a swift operation that brought down the second cell. The quick turnaround on exploiting battlefield intelligence may confirm that the regional task force commanders are not restricted by having to go up the chain of command for target approval. The handcuffs have been removed in the hunt for al Qaeda and Zarqawi.

In related news, another “High-ranking leader of terrorist organization Al Qaeda” was arrested in the Shiite holy city of Karbala. Abdel Fatih Isa (a.k.a. Abu Aisha) is described as “the chief organizers of terrorist acts in capital Baghdad. According to military sources Abu Aisha was an officer from the Iraqi army during Saddam Hussein’s rule…” The myth that secular Baathist and radical Islamists would never collaborate should be sufficiently shattered at this point.

Karbala and Baghdad have been targeted by suicide bombers over the past day, killing upwards of thirty Iraqis. The arrest of Abu Aisha may have spurred the attacks, as he can now compromise his network while under interrogation. His network is aware he is missing, and now are forced to “use it or lose it” as Task Force 145 is likely on the hunt.

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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