Friday, June 09, 2006

Stalking Zarqawi

The lethality of US weapons meant that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's survival always depended on his ability to control information. Specifically he needed to control information on his whereabouts. What happens when that information escapes his grasp -- even for a few hours -- was demonstrated by the 500 pound bomb that that came crashing down on his head. The question everyone in Al Qaeda probably wants to know and whose answer the US would be foolish to reveal is: how?

The International Herald Tribune says the US had a source in Zarqawi's network.

"We have a guy on the inside who led us directly to Zarqawi," the official said. In a news release on Thursday morning, U.S. military commanders hinted strongly that a member of Zarqawi's inner circle had pointed the way. "Tips and intelligence from Iraqi senior leaders from his network led forces to al-Zarqawi," the news release said. Iraqi officials confirmed that Zarqawi had indeed been sold out by one of his own. "We have managed to infiltrate this organization," said Mowaffak al-Rubiae, Iraq's national security adviser. He declined to elaborate.

Just how the Americans were able to receive the information from the source was also unclear. In an interview, a Jordanian official close to the investigation said that the mission that killed Zarqawi was a joint operation conducted by the Americans and Jordanian intelligence. The source inside Zarqawi's group, the Jordanian official said, had been cultivated at least in part by Jordanian intelligence agents. "There was a man from Zarqawi's group who handed over the information," the Jordanian official said. "It was someone who was part of the group."

An ABC news blog written by Alexis Debat -- also mentions the Jordanian connection -- but in a much less plausible way by suggesting the key leak came from an Iraqi customs agent working for Zarqawi who was caught by Amman's intelligence and talked. But the time gap between the customs agent's capture and the strike make it practically impossible for that to have had real time information on Zarqawi's whereabouts.

An Iraqi customs agent secretly working with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's terror cell spilled the beans on the group after he was arrested, Jordanian officials tell ABC News. Ziad Khalaf Raja al-Karbouly was arrested by Jordanian intelligence forces last spring. Officials say Karbouly confessed to his role in the terror cell and provided crucial information on the names of Zarqawi commanders and locations of their safe houses.

The Herald Sun brings elements of the two accounts together in a fairly plausible way. In this account, the Iraqi customs source referred to in the ABC news blog was a step in a ladder which ultimately led to Zarqawi himself.

US forces had first learned of Sheik Abd-al-Rahman in April when Jordanian intelligence officers arrested and interrogated an al-Qaida mid-level operative near the Iraqi border. US Maj-Gen William Caldwell said that began a painstaking, six-week surveillance operation of Abd-al-Rahman which also used unmanned aerial drones. The informer pointed them to the al-Qaida meeting attended by the sheik at the building on the outskirts of Habhib village, 8km north of the town of Baquba.

A task force, called 77 or 145, of Delta Force commandos, Navy SEALs and British special operations experts had first pinpointed the property near Baquba, 60km north of Baghdad. The white stucco, two-storey farmhouse near a grove of palm trees was in the area where the Jordanian experts had most likely placed Zarqawi from the video. Maj-Gen Caldwell said: "The strike did not occur in a 24-hour period. "It was a very long, painstaking, deliberate exploitation of intelligence, information gathering, human resources, electronic signal intelligence that was done over a period of time -- many, many weeks."

The Boston Herald suggests that Zarqawi's precise location was known only very shortly before the actual strike.

Al-Zarqawi died with five others, including a woman, a child and the man who unwittingly led the Americans to him - his deputy and spiritual adviser, Abu Abdul-Rahman al-Iraqi, according to U.S. officials. Al-Iraqi was the key to pinpointing the fugitive, U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said. Intelligence officials identified him with the help of the insider and began tracking his movements, waiting for him to meet with his boss, Caldwell said. “Last night, he made a linkup (with al-Zarqawi) again at 6:15 (10:15 a.m. EDT), at which time a decision was made to go ahead and strike that target and eliminate both of them,” Caldwell told reporters in Baghdad.

The New York Times summarizes the situation economically but with the normal hint of dirty deeds.

Several weeks ago, someone inside the Zarqawi network turned the military's attention to the spiritual adviser, identified as Sheikh Abd al-Rahman, said Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, the senior military spokesman in Iraq. It was not clear whether the provider of the information was a voluntary informer or someone in custody who revealed it during interrogation. The military tracked Sheikh Rahman with an unmanned aerial vehicle, according to one Pentagon official. And human intelligence and "electronic signal intelligence" — eavesdropping or other forms of intercepting communications — were also used to pinpoint him, General Caldwell said. The result was that "last night was the first time that we have had definitive, unquestionable information" where Mr. Zarqawi was, the general said. "Therefore, the decision was made to strike."

The presence or absence of a cordoning US force in the area is partly illuminated by General Caldwell's press conference with reporters. Much of the CNN questioning actually focused on whether US forces complied with its duty to care for the wounded Zarqawi, especially after Caldwell mentioned that Zarqawi, still alive after the attack, and had momentarily turned away before being resecured. However what is of interest is that in Caldwell's narratives Iraqi police appeared on the spot before US forces. The suggestion that US forces were numerically thin on the ground is provided by these Caldwell excerpts:

CALDWELL: What I would tell you is I have not sat and talked to them and asked them exactly why the decision was made to attempt to take him utilizing an airstrike. I have to go back and ask that question. But clearly that was the decision that was made by the commander on the ground. I would assume if we would had gone in there and tried to have captured him, that would have taken some kind of overwhelming force at that point in time, and that perhaps they didn't have it read.

CALDWELL: The first people on the scene were the Iraqi police. They had found him and put him into some kind of gurney/stretcher kind of thing, and then American coalition forces arrived immediately thereafter on-site. They immediately went to the person in the stretcher, were able to start identifying by some distinguishing marks on his body. They had some kind of visual facial recognition. According to the person on the ground, Zarqawi attempted to, sort of, turn away off the stretcher. Everybody resecured him back onto the stretcher, but he died almost immediately thereafter from the wounds he'd received from this airstrike. As far as anybody else, again, the report says nobody else survived.

QUESTION: To clarify then, you can confirm that U.S. troops themselves saw and can confirm to you that Zarqawi was alive; that is confirmed by U.S. troops on the ground. And his attempt to turn away, would you describe that as an attempt, even in the state he was in, to escape at that point? Why did you -- was he strong enough for anyone to have to resecure him?

CALDWELL: Again, I'm reading the report; I did not talk specifically to any uniformed person. But according to the report, we did, in fact, see him alive. There was some kind of movement he had on the stretcher. And he died shortly thereafter. But, yes, it was confirmed by other than the Iraqi police that he was alive initially.

QUESTION: Did anyone render medical assistance to him? Did U.S. troops try to render medical assistance?

CALDWELL: Again, as I was reading the report, they went into the process to provide medical care to him.

QUESTION: How ... many minutes was Zarqawi alive after the bombing and before he eventually expired? And had he been shot?

CALDWELL: When I was there today it became apparent that this kind of question would be asked. We're trying to put that exact minutes together from the time that we saw the Iraqi police arrive on site to when the first coalition forces arrived on site and when they were able to report that they thought he had died there. And we'll provide that -- we can put that together. We just don't have it at the moment.


A number of fascinating issues are raised by these various accounts. The suggestion is that the US had painstakingly but unobtrusively closed in on Zarqawi starting with the Jordanian connection (Zarqawi is Jordanian himself) which gave them more informers; and to use an ASW analogy, a number of sources through which they could 'listen' for him. But to get a "firing solution" they needed real time information on his whereabouts. Reports suggest that to localize Zarqawi to the required precision required following Sheikh Abd al-Rahman to the actual meet and perhaps confirming Zarqawi's presence through "electronics signal intelligence", in the phrase of the NYT.

In the meantime there had to be shadow force of US ground forces and an air group just offstage. It must have been necessary for the commanders to launch the ground component and the strike F-16s even before al-Rahman had reached his destination due to the sortie times. This vast but stealthy cloud of lethality had to be held in readiness as Sheikh Abd al-Rahman came to the end of his trail, if the accounts are to be believed. But once Rahman arrived at the house, what then? The intelligence must then have indicated a firing solution was possible but that the window of opportunity would close. Some accounts even suggest that a few shots were exchanged with the safe house by surrounding forces -- perhaps a decision was made that there were not enough US forces to storm the house -- and it was decided to put a 500 lb bomb through the roof. Yet the sudden appearance of the Iraqi police with a gurney is strangely at odds this picture. It's hard to imagine the regular Hibhib beat cops suddenly showing up and rushing past the Special Forces to Zarqawi. The CNN reporter who seemed disturbed there was no onsite medical assistance for Zarqawi illustrates what may happen when we unconsciously carry around a "normal" picture in our heads and transpose it to the foreign. If one is accustomed to seeing ambulances at accident sites, it takes a moment to realize this is the last thing you would probably find in a small town like Hibhib on a moment's notice. What happened in Zarqawi's last hours has not been described very clearly. And maybe that's intentional.


Blogger TM Lutas said...

To live, Zarqawi had to control information all the time, to get him, we only had to pierce his obscurity once. We fear asymmetric warfare because we usually imagine ourselves as constantly on the defensive and having the tough part of that equation. This situation demonstrates that sometimes the shoe is on the other foot.

6/09/2006 02:48:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

The hotel bombings motivated the Jordanians to greater levels of serious action.

I think it is a coincidence that the Ministers were selected concurrently to Z biting the bullet.

It should become evident if Z has been the "brains" behind the Insurgency or if it really is "homegrown". I have always thought it more a Sunni reaction to Invasion and loss of power, at least initially, than Jihad. It would seem difficult for the small numbers of Foreign fighters, estimated at around 2,000 to wreck such havoc without Indig support.
Or the estimates are off by a considerable factor.

6/09/2006 02:56:00 PM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...

Presidents who've watched their poll numbers sink illustrate how a bandwagon effect can suddenly kick in. The perception that one is a lame duck or a loser has hit a lot of politicians. Carter. Chirac. Maybe GWB.

At some point, I don't know when, but clearly before he staged that ridiculous SAW video, Zarqawi crossed the line into "loser" territory. People are cruel in that way. They'll cheer you for as long as you are winning. But once things go bad people will turn on you. Look at Michael Jackson. It's in those moments that $25 M in the bank starts looking really good.

In terrorism as in politics, if you want a real friend you are probably in the wrong business.

6/09/2006 03:05:00 PM  
Blogger Jeff Medcalf said...

If I were in the US military command, I would be putting out through leakers - constantly denied - that in fact there was more than one informant high in Zarqawi's organization, and that none of them were actually killed in the airstrike, due to being elsewhere on some pretense. Then, I would sit back and watch the surviving organization tear itself apart finding and dispatching lots of people high in the organization who might have been the leakers. Combined with information from the raids on the 17 safe houses that were hit after Zarqawi was killed, it could be made to look like the organization was riddled with American and Iraqi government agents, and the internal thrashing would be far more dangerous to the enemy than most of the actions we could otherwise take.

6/09/2006 03:20:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Zarqawi’s demise, our opportunity

"As he committed atrocity after atrocity, for years and seemingly with impunity, Zarqawi became a mythic figure in a part of the world where mythology has vastly more cachet than reality.
His exploits stoked the triumphalism of the bin Laden narrative, which unfolds an Islam so transcendent it drives infidel superpowers out of Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Somalia, annihilates their embassies and naval destroyers, and reaches even into their territories to murder unbelievers and destroy the symbols of their earthly might.

In short, he embodied for jihadists—and, more consequentially, for the untold thousands sympathetic to jihadism but on the fence about whether to cross over into active terrorism—the conceit that if they were committed enough, and ruthless enough, they could win.
As I said before, Tim McGirk is a scumbag.
I predict before this is over, he will make Kevin Sites look like a patriotic, Marine Supporting, Professional Journalist.
And the Murtha Chorus will be shown to have been as fair with the Marines as the DA and the Duke Admin has been with the La Cross team.
...or as Sheets Byrde once was with Black Folk.

6/09/2006 03:22:00 PM  
Blogger Brett L said...


Perhaps you have your timing wrong. Perhaps Maliki has been waiting for a success - any large success - to ram his ministers through. To make an analogy, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation after a Union victory. Was he using the victory as a 'distraction' to cover the fact that he had just outlawed slavery by Executive Order? No. Politicians are opportunists. The good ones understand the force multiplying effects of releasing good news you control when the things out of your control break your way.

Also, I think you can flip a coin on whether this info is a cover for the US having penetrated the network totally, versus the 'happy confluence' theory. There have now been almost 60 follow-up raids. Seems like maybe we've been waiting to nail the Z-man before rolling up his entire network. As d'rat said, we'll know how much influence al-Z really had pretty soon.

So, any of you cynics wanna bet that we'll hear the Iranians are elbow deep in the terror networks? I'm betting we'll hear it, but it will be denied so we can keep 'negotiating'.

6/09/2006 03:39:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

National Review has a Bunch of good articles, here's one with a different twist on 'Rat's perspective:
"His tactical goal was more death.
He wanted to provoke the Shiite into acts as cruel as his own, and unfortunately had achieved some success.

The vengeful Shiite militia members plying the streets of Baghdad with their power tools to torture Sunni men before dumping their bodies in the street are Zarqawi’s progeny.

He gleefully pointed to their murderous work as justification for even more killing by Sunnis, toward a full-scale civil war making Iraq a nation as Hieronymus Bosch painting, an Arab Rwanda choking on its own blood.
The word for this vision is “evil.”

In his new book, The Good Fight, writer Peter Beinart argues that one of the great strengths of liberal foreign policy is that it is unburdened by such simplistic reckonings.

6/09/2006 03:41:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

Both westhawk and tigerhawk second stratfor's idea there may a Grand Agreement in Iraq that led to Z and the 17 safe houses all being taken down concurrently.

Price of Peace was Z and his network.

If this assessment is correct we'll see the Sunni Insurcetion wind down quickly.

Baghdad, Ramadi and Haditha will be the places to watch to see if Peace has broken out in Iraq.

6/09/2006 03:44:00 PM  
Blogger Mad Fiddler said...

It takes no genius to make this prediction: There will likely be a significant purging by al Qaeda of its own ranks over the next few months. I anticipate both a wave of internal murders AND a handful of defections. Regardless of any leaks or officially promulgated version of the source for Zarqawi intel, the survivors at all strata must be wondering about the wavering commitment of those standing near.

6/09/2006 03:52:00 PM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...

Once the Iraqi government became a going concern the context changed entirely. Jordan was probably looking to revive trade with its neighbor. People are looking for contracts. Now that the Sunni pols are on board they are looking to get positions, make deals, etc. It doesn't really make sense for a Sunni to accept the Ministry of Defense position and have Zarqawi out there planning on sending a car bomb into it.

It's possible that Z had simply outstayed his time. The last of the desperadoes in a settled West. Bad for business and all that. And if he died he would take his secrets with him. Everyone in the government can take their seat with clean hands. I say that with bitter irony.

But that's how it goes in that brutal business. Once it was clear that the insurgency wasn't really going anywhere there was no percentage in keeping it up. Zarqawi's mistake was that he put himself so far out that he couldn't do a deal. He had burned his bridges and what was there but to await the end. Funny how the Z and Abu Nidal were always the last to know.

6/09/2006 03:59:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

" He had burned his bridges and what was there but to await the end. Funny how the Z and Abu Nidal were always the last to know."
I would think he must rank pretty high on the All Time List of Bridge Burners.

6/09/2006 04:08:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

doug, reading the blogs referenced at Pajama's the other day left me feeling Baghdad a reality show version of Mad Max.
Armed neighborhoods, citizens rallying together for self defense.
Water shortages, power black and brown outs. Businesses shuttered, madness in the air.

The success of the Maliki Government will be decided very quickly. If he can bring Security to the streets of Baghdad, the Iraqis will judge him a successs, at least short term.
Law 91 will be implemented, says Mr Maliki, the integration of the militias into the Federal System of ISF and Police.
The are aproximately 75,000 Shia militia men, between the Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigades. The Kurdish militia 20,000 or so, the Sunni militias, the current Insurgents count about 20,000.

120,000 militiamen is a large talent pool to draw from, that's for sure.

6/09/2006 04:09:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Coulda been a lot less blood spilled if we had not been so overly concerned with not spilling any.
(To the point of shedding that of our own, instead.)
I say the American People would STILL support a Real War, with our side given a fair chance, MSM be damned.
Success breeds Support.
The Black Prince Is Dead
Also, more than one terrorist wants to take Zarqawi’s place as leader.
What happens to the bozos that get shunted aside?
Members of terrorist organizations exhibit many of the same foibles as members of other criminal organizations, like jealousy and greed. One or more of them will turn. For the disgruntled terrorist, who is tired of being chased by U.S. Marines, soldiers, Apache gunships, Predator Drones, and F-15s – that one or five-million dollar bounty starts to look pretty good.

Apache Princess
(Don't miss the Homepage)

6/09/2006 04:17:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Yikes! I meant the HAIR Homepage!!!

6/09/2006 04:21:00 PM  
Blogger truepeers said...

What is the likelihood of someone surviving intact, if only briefly, after two 500 pounders are dropped on his house?

6/09/2006 04:34:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

That was somethin' you linked me to, not sure what, but...

A quick scan of Real Clear Politics provides a fair share of send in more troops, clear and secure the cities, Baghdad in particular articles.

I think that the entire brawn of the ISF should be brought to the city and they can clear it.
If today's series of raids remove the "Mohameddan factions" from the streets, that'd be great. The task may well be half complete.

Regardless it is vital that the Iraqis secure their Capital, with as little US or International assistance as possible.

Will integrating the Mahdi Army into the ISF weaken or stregthen Mr al-Sadr's position. Giving him access to ISF Command and Control opportunities that he may not have now, or cutting him off from his armed faction?

This integration is one factor in why I advocated greater US embedding in Iraqi Army units. We should have 35,000 troops in a reverse KATUSA type program, today, able to monitor the integration, internally.

The US would have made hugh lamguage skill gains and in personal relationships with the Iraqi.
Also the US would be developing an "old school" SF capacity of Arabic trainers.
There is still time,for that type program that would affect the ISF for generations to come, but the window is closing.

6/09/2006 04:39:00 PM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...


If Zarqawi had been alerted by an exchange of shots he might have tried to improvise some shelter in the few minutes he had from what he knew was coming next. The bodyguards would have stayed in the open. Would a slit trench with sacks of grain over it to keep down the overpressure from a bomb work? A lot of homes in Iraq presumably have some emergency shelter.

If he had made it out alive, he might have known something that would have kept him alive for longer. What do people like Z do all day except figure out these scenarios? He must have thought about it, or so I would guess. Aces and aces in different holes. But it was the Ace of Spades that was dealt out that day. And he was due.

6/09/2006 04:43:00 PM  
Blogger vnjagvet said...

I suspect that practical politicians will now start making deals which will coopt a significant number of Sunni and Shiite terrorist cells which, for the most part, were probably operating independently of the Z man's minions.

The MSM is now necessarily concentrating on explosions, beheadings and shootings causing mass Iraqi deaths each day, rather than US and allied military deaths.

These may well diminish because of the combination of the above-described political activity and the Zman's death.

This is admittedly an optimistic view of the situation, but one which facts seem to support.

It is not one, however, which either the President or the Defense Department should be publicizing.

Long slog should be their watchword, and the Coolidge "persistence" quote noted above.

6/09/2006 04:47:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

"This integration is one factor in why I advocated greater US embedding in Iraqi Army units. We should have 35,000 troops in a reverse KATUSA type program, today, able to monitor the integration, internally."
Some of those guys that worked in Afghanistan must have priceless educations by now.
How they get used rather than only abused by the machine.
Welcome back to the Canuckistanian Genius!

6/09/2006 04:53:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...


6/09/2006 04:53:00 PM  
Blogger Deuce ☂ said...

The Gurney thing is no mystery. An ambush of this type would anticipate casualties and ambulance or medical service vehicles would be available. Regardless of how they found Z-departed, it would make sense to send him off with a good dose of dis-information and some well deserved paranoia. Putting his coherts in unplanned motion would bring attention to some already under surveillance. Just another day in paradise.

6/09/2006 04:55:00 PM  
Blogger Fastest Squirrel said...

HUMINT my dear Watson. HUMINT.

6/09/2006 05:13:00 PM  
Blogger truepeers said...

Sounds plausible, Wretchard; I can ignorantly imagine him surviving the first blast if prepared, but very lucky to still be ready to protect from the second.

Heh Doug, funny you should say that: I just wrote Melanie Phillips to point out the correct term: she was calling us "Canadastan"!

6/09/2006 05:21:00 PM  
Blogger Gene Felder said...

As General William Prescott, at the Battle of Bunker Hill, advised “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes”, is it possible the US has so much disciple to, as Brett L says “Seems like maybe we've been waiting to nail the Z-man before rolling up his entire network.” As President Bush’s and the War in Iraq public approval ratings have declined, it’s hard to believe that the US need not know of some of the 17 to 60 safe houses.

It would be very impressive if Brett L is correct. I think he is. If Bush and the US military really want to win, they need to accumulate information and then strike in force at the opportune time. It would be great if they did just that.

Gene Felder

6/09/2006 05:55:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Perserverance to the MAX

6/09/2006 06:34:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

The Relocation Solution
Buck Knives bucked pricey California and moved 1,453 miles to find a better business environment.
Plus: Buck's moving costs .
I love the perserverance of the 79 yr old Idahoian in this article.
Got Calif/immigration/welfare state down better than most folks half his age.
...Workman's Comp TEN TIMES HIGHER!

6/09/2006 07:08:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

In the Print Version, there is a picture of Bob Potter, 79.
Looked great, too.

6/09/2006 07:10:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

That's impressive!

6/09/2006 09:09:00 PM  
Blogger Red River said...

Just like the start of OIF, this was a decapitation strike that marked the start of a Campaign to destroy AQ in Iraq.

The huge number of direct operations just after the killing of Zarqawi - shows this was planned as a Campaign as much as Tal-Afar or the River War was.

From a strategic level it does no good to kill one man and leave his organization intact.

Better, if you have strategic patience, is to build the capability to track all of the command structure in near-real time so that you can take down the whole organization at once.

Zarqawi, though we knew where he was, was left in blissful peace to run around and reveal his whole organization to us. Once this decision was made, he entered a bubble world where the Coalition just recorded the data and waited.

I think the better analogy is flatworld, where all the creatures live in two-dimensions, including Zarqaqi. Once we stepped out of 2-D and began a different battle, then we could get him.

6/10/2006 09:46:00 AM  
Blogger Jeff Medcalf said...


Go read up on the island bombardments in WWII in the Pacific and at Normandy. The number of assertions of sufficient firepower being sent at a target to kill anyone there 30 times over, followed by the Marines discovering live enemy with a machine gun, will quickly cure you of believing in estimates of explosive killing power. If the men in the house were in a basement, for example, and the first blast occurred at the opposite end of the house, they could certainly have survived that. The second blast, 30 seconds later, makes that much less likely, but still possible. People are remarkably difficult to actually kill.

6/10/2006 07:36:00 PM  

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