Intelligence: November 8, 2003

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The recent establishment of Task Force 121 is another attempt to run down Saddam Hussein and his key aides. Task Force121, like the earlier Task Force 5 (in Afghanistan) and Task Force 20 (in Iraq), are temporary operations organized by the U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command). The cutting edge troops are Special Forces, Delta Force and SEALs. Support is provided by SOCOMs own fleet of specialized aircraft, plus intelligence and other personnel. Perhaps the most potent aspect of operations like Task Force121 is their ability to work closely with the CIA, FBI, DIA and other intelligence agencies. The CIA, in particular, has long been eager to work with SOCOM troops. This goes back to the 1950s, when Special Forces troops, many of whom had worked, during World War II, with people now in the CIA, joined forces in foreign areas where the CIA needed some para-military specialists. This cooperation has continued, and sometimes SOCOM troops will enter a country in civilian clothes (usually with the local government's permission, but not always) to cooperate with the CIA on some joint operation. 

The CIA, and other intelligence agencies, trust the SOCOM "operators" because these men (and some women) are very well trained and extremely professional. In effect, the CIA considers many of the SOCOM people as peers, and is willing to work together on sensitive missions (where mistakes could have very damaging political and diplomatic repercussions.) Such operations have been going on in the Horn of Africa for over a year, with Somalia being visited regularly (and unofficially) by SOCOM and CIA agents. 

Operations like this have been going on for years. Most of them you never hear about, and SOCOM (and the CIA) prefer to keep it that way. In these situations, secrecy can be a matter of life and death. Moreover, if the media get wind of some of these reconnaissance, assassination or "snatch" (grabbing one or more people) operations, SOCOM can get hurt in the subsequent firestorm of unwanted publicity. At worst, Congress can decide to cut SOCOMs budget, or pile on more restrictions about what SOCOM can, or cannot, do in carrying out the president's orders.

A good example of the dangerous political territory SOCOM operates in will probably pop up as Task Force121 mines the growing pile of intelligence being collected in Iraq. No one will say so, but an increasing amount of useful, or just interesting, information is coming from members of Saddam's defunct intelligence and security organizations. Many of these Iraqis have very dirty hands, but they were also the only people who knew the secrets of Saddams government. And in many Sunni Arab parts of Iraq, Saddam's supporters still operate freely. 

When evidence of intelligence collecting among Saddam's thugs becomes better known, you will find SOCOM's Arab speaking operators in the middle of it. While there's no better way to run down Saddam, many will criticize Task Force121 for "making deals with the Devil." Cash, Green Cards, threats, or whatever it takes will eventually get enough of the Devils to talk to expose Saddam's protective network and nail the man himself. 

Task Force121 is trained and equipped to move quickly enough to take advantage of information on where Saddam is, and catch him. It's been known for years that Saddam was always on the move. This mobility was his primary security tool, and he set up networks of supporters and safe houses to make it work. Many of those networks survive, fueled by cash, terror or loyalty to tribe and family. Saddam made a lot of people rich while he was in power, and much of that wealth is threatened now that Saddam is no longer running the country. At lot of what's going on in Iraq has to do with power and money. Task Force121 knows how to deal with people obsessed with power and money. But it's not an overnight operation. It's a war of inches, sort of like playing high speed chess in the dark. You find out where the enemy is, what he's got and go for the throat when the opportunity appears. If you know what youre doing, and keep at it long enough, you'll eventually achieve a checkmate.

 


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