UPI Pentagon Correspondent
Washington (UPI) Jun 12, 2006
The air strike that killed Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al Zarqawi and his spiritual adviser sparked 17 other nearly simultaneous raids that netted large amounts of useful intelligence and documents and the capture of several more of his lieutenants, according to military officials and terrorism experts.
It also presages more operations.
A top U.S. official said that in the hunt for Zarqawi, the U.S. military identified but did not go after his associates, as they were tracking them to lead them to their final target.
The 17 raids yielded "a treasure trove" of intelligence, said U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell in Baghdad Thursday.
"It was a treasure trove, no question. And we had identified other targets we had previously not gone after to allow us to continue staying focused on getting Zarqawi. But now that we have got him, it allows us now to go after all these other targets we have been using in order to establish his movements, his patterns, his habits and where we could find him like we did last night," Caldwell said.
But Zarqawi's death is unlikely to dramatically diminish the violence in Iraq.
"Although Zarqawi's capture is reason to rejoice, we must be -- caution not to be overly optimistic, as one man's life does not signify an end to an insurgency," Caldwell said.
Caldwell said the U.S. military believes it knows already who has been tapped to replace him.
"As we have seen with countless apprehensions of Zarqawi's lieutenants, the regeneration of theirs is, in itself, very interesting. It was likely that Zarqawi had planned for his capture for some times. He probably has identified somebody as his replacement, and we're sure that they'll try to incite violence over the next few days, to reassert themselves, to show that they are still a viable insurgent organization," said Caldwell in an unusually detailed briefing to reporters Thursday on the operation.
"Probably Abu al-Masri, if you had to pick somebody, would be the person that is going to try to occupy the position that Zarqawi had," Caldwell said. "He's the most logical one out there, as you look at that structure and how they operate, that will probably try to move into there. And that's something that the coalition forces, along with the Iraqi government, have been already talking about and anticipating could possibly occur."
The operation to target Zarqawi, who headed a network known as "Al Qaida in Iraq" - abbreviated by the military to as "AQIz" - began at least six weeks ago when an Iraqi inside Zarqawi's network fingered Sheikh Abd Al Rahman as a close associate of the leader to military intelligence.
"Through painstaking intelligence effort, they were able to start tracking him, monitoring his movements and establishing when he was doing his link-ups with Zarqawi. Last night (June 7) he made a link-up again at 6:15, at which time the decision was made to go ahead and strike that target, eliminating both of those members of al Qaida at that time," Caldwell said.
Two F-16s that were flying a routine mission over the area were passed the coordinates of the house near Baqouba they were told with 100 percent certainty held a "high value target," said Lt. Gen. Gary North, the commander of U.S. Air Forces in Central Command, in a phone interview with Pentagon reporters.
The two pilots monitored the house and its surroundings and adjusted their weapons for both maximum impact on the sturdily built concrete house and to minimize collateral damage to surrounding buildings.
A single F-16 fired two precision-guided 500 lb munitions sequentially -- first, a laser-guided GBU-12 and then a GPS-guided GBU-38 -- essentially, a traditional gravity bomb with an added tail kit and guidance package added on the end to increase both range and accuracy.
Caldwell said the U.S. military strategy in Iraq has been to target mid-level Zarqawi operatives as a means of reducing their capability to carry out attacks like suicide bombings, car bombs and kidnapping. The U.S. military believes Zarqawi organized the February attack on the Golden Dome Mosque in Samarra, an attempt to trigger violence between Sunnis and Shi'ites around the country. That attempt was successful in increasing ethnic attacks and retribution.
Alexis Debat, a French terrorism expert, said Zarqawi's death is both a symbolic victory and an operational victory, and told UPI Thursday Zarqawi's operation had been weakened financially over the last year.
"The recruits were asked to come to Iraq with their own money -- to sell their stuff to come up with the money -- in the past year," he said.
Those that came were divided into two groups. If Zarqawi thought they had talent, they were trained in "highly advanced urban guerilla warfare and urban terrorism," Debat said.
"People trained in Iraq go back to their home country with skills far deadlier" than what they might have gotten in Afghanistan before the United States ousted the Taliban and al Qiada headquarters there.
The volunteers that Zarqawi judged were not potential leaders were isolated, indoctrinated, and used in suicide attacks.
While many regard Zarqawi as the kingpin of the Iraqi insurgency, Debat believes it was the Sunni insurgents, who comprise more than 90 percent of the fighters, who held the cards in that relationship.
The only bargaining chip the Sunnis have vis-à-vis the more numerous and oil rich Shiites was an end to the violence that plagues Iraq. It has been in their interest to keep it going as a means of leveraging political power.
"Increasingly there was a debate within the Sunnis over the benefits derived from the insurgency, and what could be exchanged for a political capability to control the insurgency and help Americans capture Zarqawi," Debat said. "He was used as an extremely interesting tool by the Sunni community."
Whether that tool was traded as a calculated move by the Sunni insurgency, or if a source was acting on his own, Debat said someone will soon rise to take Zarqawi's place and will have no problem inheriting his power. Unlike Osama bin Laden, Zarqawi has little personal charisma and rarely communicated his message to the outside world. But he did have a $25 million bounty on his head.
"He was absolutely not a bin Laden. He emerged as a 'rock star' only because Americans made him that way," Debat said. "His successor will more likely than not gain the same status, the same mystique. There's really no way to deal with that .... There is a head, you need to identify it and put a price on it."
Source: United Press International
Read news feeds from multiple sources at Iraq Wars
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