May 2, 2006:
Without much fanfare or publicity, American and British commandoes have taken apart al Qaeda's operation in Iraq. About the only non-Iraqi al Qaeda leader left in Iraq is military leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi, a Jordanian. In the last few months, American commandoes nearly caught Zarqawi at least three times. On April 16th and 25th, raids killed and captured over twenty al Qaeda members. Interrogations of the captured men indicated that Zarqawi was in the area. Also captured, before it showed up on an al Qaeda web site, was a video of Zarqawi, holding an American M249 light machinegun. Several of these have been lost, usually from vehicles hit by roadside bombs, and abandoned by their crews. In the video, Zarqawi pleaded for Iraqi Sunni Arabs to support him and not, as more and more Sunni Arabs are doing, the democratically elected government. Zarqawi believes, as does al Qaeda, that democracy is un-Islamic. Only God, through self-selected clerics, can run a country.
SOCOM (Special Forces Command) has had a task force going after al Qaeda in Iraq ever since Saddam was captured in early 2004. Since al Qaeda turned Zarqawi into a symbol for the movement in Iraq, SOCOM was especially keen on getting him. A special task force was set up to take on the al Qaeda leadership. This one is currently called Task Force 145 (previous tags were TF 626, TF 121 and at one point, no name at all). Currently, the task force is concentrating its operations southwest of Baghdad, in one of the last areas where al Qaeda and Saddam still have a lot of popular support. The two April raids were in the town of Yusufiyah.
Currently, TF 145 is divided into four sub units. Task Force West has several dozen commandoes from the U.S. Navy SEAL DevGroup, and a company of U.S. Army Rangers. Task Force Central has several dozen men from U.S. Army Delta Force and a company of Rangers. Task Force North has a about a dozen men from Delta Force, and a company of Rangers. Task Force Black has a few dozen SAS commandoes, with a company of British "Rangers" (the new Special Forces Support Group). TF 145 has a small headquarters element, plus a large intelligence operation, most of which is back in the United States, and connected in real time via satellite. There are also SOCOM helicopters and aircraft present.
The SOCOM intel effort has its hooks into everyone else's intelligence operations, and gets any info related to al Qaeda, and especially al Qaeda leadership. The basic drill is for one of the four smaller Task Forces to grab a likely bit of info and quickly plan and execute a raid. The rangers provide muscle (perimeter security, read guard) , as needed, and keep any other unfriendlies away, while the SEAL, Delta or SAS commandoes go in after the main target. The objective is to capture people alive, if possible, because interrogations and examination of documents starts immediately. The idea is to get fresh information that will lead to other al Qaeda people. Often this is the case, in which the commandoes and rangers are immediately off to another raid. Most of this takes place at night, and several raids may be carried out between dusk and dawn.
The Task Force has been so successful that, except for Zarqawi, there are no more foreigners (Saudis, Jordanians, etc) in the Iraqi al Qaeda leadership. It's all Iraqis, and these guys are proving just as vulnerable to informers as the foreigners (who stood out because of their accent and body language) were. Most Sunni Arabs are tired of all the violence, and are backing the government by passing on (and getting paid for) tips on where Zarqawi and his crew are hiding out.
TF 145 almost got Zarqawi last February, and in the last six months have been hammering al Qaeda, and it's Sunni Arab supporters heavily. There are still several well armed gangs and tribal militias in the "Sunni Triangle" of central Iraq, and some of these have been persuaded to make peace with the government in order to avoid a visit from TF 145. Iraqis are big fans of American action movies. And they note that a visit from TF 145 is just like the movies, except for the real bullets, blood and dead bodies. So far, two dozen senior al Qaeda leaders have been killed or (mostly) captured, while about 200 al Qaeda leaders, who have had direct contact with Zarqawi, have been taken as well.
The success of the Rangers in these operations has led to a request from SOCOM for a battalion of American paratroopers (most Rangers are recruited from the paratrooper divisions.) Actually, SOCOM wants three paratrooper battalions, each given extra training for SOCOM type missions, and then sent to Iraq for three month tours.
New tactics and techniques developed by TF 145 has led to the establishment of similar raiding units (company strength, a hundred or so Special Forces troops) for four of the major combatant commands (each of which is responsible for American military operations in a specific part of the world.)
The TF 145 operations have demonstrated once more that good intelligence, and rapid exploitation of that information, is the key to success. Often, the second raid of the night hits an al Qaeda safe house that has not yet learned of the one taken an hour or so earlier. This speed makes the raids safer for the attackers, and more successful as well.