Updated Details on the Zarqawi Strike
Some further details on the Zarqawi strike are provided by the Army Times. There were apparently multiple leads that led the Coalition close Zarqawi. Apart from the Zarqawi agent captured by Jordan, there was also a takedown in Baghdad:
The capture of Sheikh Ahmed al-Dabash in Baghdad’s Mansour district May 29, described by U.S. Central Command as “a major financier and facilitator of terrorism in Iraq,” may have been another critical breakthrough, multiple sources said. “You follow the money — and he was the money man,” said an officer familiar with special operations in Iraq.
The noose began to close when Zarqawi was localized to Hibhib. There was a small group of Americans who were apparently able to see the house in which Zarqawi was holed up.
TF 145 tracked Rahman to a safe house about five miles west of Baqubah in the tiny hamlet of Hibhib, an isolated cluster of about 300 buildings, most of them made of sub-baked mud, and surrounded by miles of farms, orchards and fields. Hibhib, which has seen a fair amount of insurgent activity, is almost 100 percent Sunni and is home to at least three prominent families who would have gladly given sanctuary to a man like Zarqawi, said Army Maj. Kreg Schnell, former intelligence officer for 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, which spent a year in Baqubah starting in February 2004. Zarqawi “obviously had friends in the area who gave him meals and a place to sleep,” Schnell said.
Indeed, U.S. intelligence had confirmed that Zarqawi would meet Rahman in Hibhib. A reconnaissance-surveillance team from Delta Force’s B Squadron infiltrated the area to get “eyes on” the house, said a source in the special operations community. Sources said a Predator unmanned aerial vehicle was also overhead.
The aircraft actually used to hit Zarqawi were not specially tasked, but were taken from the available on-call force. The need to strike immediately was so urgent that the mission had to proceed with a single aircraft after the other had been delayed by refueling.
Senior U.S. military leaders in Iraq discussed whether to launch a ground assault, but decided “they could not really go in on the ground without running the risk of having him escape,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters June 8 in Brussels, Belgium. That left an airstrike as the only option.
Two F-16C Fighting Falcon jets were in the air on a routine on-call mission due to last four or five hours over central Iraq when the decision was made to launch the mission, Air Force Lt. Gen. Gary North, Central Command’s air component commander, told reporters in the Pentagon on June 8. The jets carried a mixed load of laser-guided and satellite-guided bombs and LITENING targeting pods equipped with laser designators to mark targets, as well as video cameras. Caldwell said June 9 that at the time the order was given to launch a strike on the house, one of the two F-16s was receiving fuel from an airborne tanker, so only one aircraft made the bombing run.
In the event, the attacking F-16C dropped two bombs.
Flying at “medium” altitude — at least 20,000 feet — the pilot circled the safe house, noting how it was built, setting targeting coordinates and deciding which bombs to use. The pilot set his fuses so the bombs would explode inside the house, rather than on contact with the roof, in order to collapse the structure. At 6:15 p.m., the F-16 dropped a 500-pound laser-guided GBU-12 bomb on the house, causing a massive explosion.
Using the cameras in the LITENING pod, the pilot peered through the smoke to observe the damage and decided a second bomb was needed. About 30 seconds later, the pilot released a 500-pound GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munition that was guided by Global Positioning System satellite signals. That also hit the home, leaving the building a smoking pile of rubble.