Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Unblinking Eye

Interesting details on the Zarqawi affair by Sean Naylor at Army Times:

In the end, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi could not escape Task Force 145's "unblinking eye."

TF 145 is the latest name for the shifting collection of U.S. and British special operations units that has hunted the most wanted terrorist in Iraq for three years, and "the unblinking eye" is what its members call the fusion of intelligence and operations that allowed them to relentlessly peel away the layers of Zarqawi's al-Qaida in Iraq organization until the terror mastermind was left defenseless and almost alone.

When that moment came, at 6:15 p.m. on June 7, a hidden Delta Force reconnaissance and surveillance team from TF 145 watched as two 500-pound bombs dropped by an Air Force F-16 pulverized the safe house near Baqubah, in which Zarqawi; his spiritual advisor, Sheikh Abd Al Rahman; and four other people had taken refuge.

The house, located in a tiny farming hamlet called Hibhib, was leveled by the blast. Rahman, another man and three women are believed to have died in the strike, but Zarqawi was still breathing when Iraqi police arrived at the scene, Army Maj. Gen. Bill Caldwell said during a June 9 briefing from Baghdad. However, the terrorist leader died within moments.

Caldwell said earlier reports that a child also had been killed in the bombing were incorrect. Zarqawi's death marks a high point in the history of Joint Special Operations Command, which provides most of the units that comprise TF 145, and is a serious - perhaps fatal - blow to Zarqawi's al-Qaida in Iraq terrorist group.

But observers say it is too soon to judge the impact on the wider war in Iraq, which includes a Sunni insurgency separate from Zarqawi's group and several Shiite militias vying for power.

"Things are not going to go away now," said Vali Nasr, a Middle East expert at the Naval Postgraduate School. "But it's now not as likely that we'll see an attack on Ayatollah Sistani or Najaf," he said, referring to Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric and its holiest Shiite shrine.

The strike that killed Zarqawi was the culmination of "a very long, painstaking, deliberate exploitation of intelligence, information-gathering, human sources, electronic, signal intelligence ... over a period of time," Caldwell said.

Rahman, Zarqawi's spiritual adviser, was the key. "He was identified several weeks ago ... through military sources from somebody inside Zarqawi's network," Caldwell said. "They were able to start tracking him, monitoring his movements and establishing when he was doing his link-ups with Zarqawi."

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.

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.

After slipping through coalition fingers on several occasions in the past three years, Zarqawi was now in the sights of U.S. forces.

It was, Caldwell said, "the first time that we ... had definitive, unquestionable information as to exactly where he was located," in a place where he could be hit "without causing collateral damage to other Iraqi civilians and personnel in the area."

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.

The pilot knew there was a high-value target in the building, North said, but he declined to say whether the pilot was told that target was Zarqawi.

North also refused to name the pilot, the unit or the base from which the mission was flown. For the past year, most F-16Cs flying over Iraq have been staged out of Balad, a sprawling Army and Air Force complex about 50 miles north of Baghdad. The Air Force typically has the equivalent of two F-16 squadrons at Balad.

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.

Iraqi security forces were the first to arrive on the ground - and found Zarqawi still alive, Caldwell said. They had placed the terrorist leader on a stretcher just as U.S. troops from Multi-National Division-North rolled in.

Zarqawi tried to get off the stretcher. Troops again secured him and attempted to start medical treatment, but he died within minutes, Caldwell said.

Coalition forces took Zarqawi's body to an undisclosed secure location, where his identity was confirmed by scars and tattoos he was known to have, and by his fingerprints, Caldwell said.

TF 145 was responsible not only for gathering the intelligence that led to Zarqawi, but also for acting upon it swiftly, creating a cycle in which each set of raids yielded more intelligence, which in turn drove more raids.

Made up of a rotating set of units from Joint Special Operations Command, the task force, based at Balad, includes squadrons from the military's two "direct action" special-mission units - the Army's 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, better known as Delta Force, and the Navy's SEAL Team 6, also known as Naval Special Warfare Development Group, as well as other Army and Air Force special operations elements and a variety of intelligence organizations.

The June 7 attack culminated about six weeks of focused effort.

"We had clear-enough evidence about a month-and-a-half ago that allowed us to start [getting] down to the point where we were able to prosecute the action ... against that safe house," Caldwell said, showing a slide that listed eight men in Zarqawi's organization captured or killed between April 6 and May 31.

But judging from Central Command's own press releases, Caldwell's slide only scratches the surface of TF 145 operations in recent weeks.

On April 16, a force of SEALs and Rangers attacked an al-Qaida in Iraq safe house in Yusufiyah, 20 miles southwest of Baghdad, killing five terrorists and capturing another five. On June 2, "wanted al-Qaida terrorist" Hasayn Ali Muzabir was killed near Balad.

Between those two missions, "coalition forces," the phrase often used by Central Command to disguise the participation of TF 145, captured or killed more than 100 members of al-Qaida in Iraq. Indeed, in a prophetic remark, Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch told reporters in Baghdad on May 4 that the coalition was "zooming in" on Zarqawi.

In Iraq, U.S. special operations forces have captured former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, tracked his sons Uday and Qusay to a hide-out where they were killed, and killed Zarqawi - who, because of the perception that his terrorist organization was such a massive obstacle to peace in Iraq, had become arguably the highest-priority individual target for the U.S. in the world.

The question is whether al-Qaida in Iraq can withstand the loss of its iconic leader, who earned grudging respect from U.S. special operators for his willingness to lead from the front.

One candidate may be Abu Ayyub al-Masri, an Egyptian whom Caldwell said met Zarqawi in Afghanistan in 2001 or 2002. U.S. operators have intelligence indicating al-Masri has had close contacts with Ayman Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's chief deputy.

Caldwell said al-Masri "helped establish maybe the first al-Qaida cell that existed in the Baghdad area." Analysts generally agree that although Zarqawi was the focus of heavy U.S. combat and propaganda efforts, he and his group were a relatively small facet of the Iraq insurgency and mounted a relatively small number of attacks.

Those attacks had a disproportionate effect, both in their violence and their political and sectarian aftermath, though Zarqawi's death may reduce the likelihood of his ultimate goal: igniting a massive civil war between Iraq's Sunni Muslim minority and the Shiite Muslims who control political life.

Within hours of Zarqawi's June 7 death, 17 simultaneous raids were carried out in and around Baghdad, yielding "a tremendous amount" of information and intelligence that is "presently being exploited ... for further use," Caldwell said.

Another 39 operations were conducted the night of June 8, Caldwell said. "This is a big oak tree that got shaken, so there's stuff falling all over the place," Schnell said.

The unblinking eye cannot afford to rest yet.

Laying Zarqawi to rest may not be the end of al-Qaeda in Iraq but exploiting the trove of intelligence material that was recovered from the house may be.

If It's Too Loud, You're Too Old

If you're going to bang on someone's door and threaten him maybe you should ascertain first what he's holding in his hand:

A man shot his next door neighbor Monday evening, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office reported. Under Florida law, he may never be charged. Investigators said the two had an ongoing argument over a messy yard and loud music. It came to a head when one neighbor shot the other outside his house.

Investigators say a few minutes after he arrived home, Kenneth Allen, 58, heard a banging at his front door. It was his neighbor, Jason Rosenbloom, 30. A verbal confrontation followed. "During the exchange, Allen told Rosenbloom to leave his property," said Mac McMullen, spokesman for the Sheriff's Office.

"Allen then shut the front door. Allen told deputies he then went to a room and retrieved a 9mm semi-automatic handgun, returned to the front door and opened the door."

"Rosenbloom then came towards Allen in what Allen told deputies was a threatening manner," he said. "Allen then told deputies he fired two rounds at Rosenbloom as he began to enter his residence." According to Allen, Rosenbloom fell to the ground after being shot, then got up and walked to his home. His wife called 911 to report the shooting.

Rosenbloom was taken to Bayfront Medical Center by air ambulance and was reported in stable condition. Allen was not charged with the shooting, McMullen said. Investigators will file their report with the State Attorney's Office for review. Under Florida law, a person cannot be charged with shooting another if he thought his life was in danger.

I wonder if Mr. Rosenbloom will henceforth keep the volume turned down.

Where's the Beef?

So why are these guys still being put through this ordeal:

The second dancer in the Duke lacrosse case told police early on that allegations of rape were a "crock" and that she was with the accuser the entire evening except for a period of less than five minutes. The second dancer, Kim Roberts, made that statement when she was first contacted by Durham police one week after the party where the first escort service dancer said she was gang raped by three men.

Roberts' statements and notes of the detectives in the case were made public today in a court filing by lawyers for one of the defendants, Reade Seligmann, 20, of Essex Falls, N.J. Seligmann's lawyers said police omitted important facts contradicting the accuser's story when they obtained an order to photograph and take DNA samples from the players, including Roberts' statements to police.

Investigator Benjamin Himan first contacted Roberts on March 20, one week after the lacrosse party that ended in the early hours of March 14. "She heard that (the accuser) was sexually assaulted, which she stated is a 'crock' and she stated that she was with her the whole time until she left," according to Himan's notes. "The only time she was alone was when she would not leave and that time period was less than five minutes."

Now there is this development:

The exotic dancer who has accused three Duke lacrosse players of gang-raping her was drinking while taking medication that night, and had sex with at least four men and a sexual device in the days immediately leading up to the off-campus party, according to court papers filed Thursday.

And despite what Durham police have contended, a medical examination showed no signs of the sort of sexual or physical attack of which the dancer complained, according to the motion filed by defense attorneys for Reade Seligmann.

Among other previously undisclosed details, the motion says the woman at one point accused her female dance partner of helping the lacrosse players rape her and of stealing her money. And she told one medical staffer she drank at least 44 ounces of beer, and told another she took a powerful muscle relaxant and drank beer before going to the party at 610 N. Buchanan Blvd. on March 13.

Lawyers Kirk Osborn and Ernest Conner contend in the motion that police Investigator Benjamin Himan and the Police Department illegally and deliberately withheld those and other details that were damaging to their investigation.

For example, they say, Himan knew but did not mention in a probable-cause affidavit that two examining physicians said the dancer complained only of vaginal rape, even though some charges in the case are linked to allegations of oral and anal penetration.

Himan also neglected to note that the accuser told one doctor she was not hit and did not complain of any pain, or that she told the sexual assault nurse examiner she was not choked, according to the documents. That conflicts with statements from police that the woman was kicked, strangled and beaten while being sexually assaulted.

Police officials wouldn't respond Thursday to questions about the documents. "The Durham Police Department is not commenting on any specifics of the Duke lacrosse case," said police spokeswoman Kammie Michael.

The defense lawyers say the omitted information is critical to the case. Had it been included, they contend, police may not have gotten permission to perform a photo lineup that led to charges against three team members. As a result, the lineup and any identifications obtained from it should be thrown out, Osborn and Conner argued.

The paperwork filed Thursday includes lengthy, handwritten statements from the second dancer and from the alleged victim's "driver," along with insights into the accuser's medical condition on the night in question. Among numerous revelations, the documents say the alleged victim performed with a vibrator for other spectators before going to the North Buchanan Boulevard house late on March 13.

Defense lawyers said the vibrator, rather than a rape, might have caused "signs or symptoms of vaginal penetration."

In addition, the dancer told her driver she was "involved in some sexual manner with at least four different men" between March 10 and 12, and she admitted to a physician the next day that "she was drunk and had had a lot of alcohol that night," according to the documents.

The accuser's medical records were among nearly 1,300 pages of documentation defense lawyers got last month from District Attorney Mike Nifong.

In other words the prosecutor has had this information all along and still chose to bring charges against these young men. Every time we hear more about this story it seems that the District Attorney has no case and that he and the usual assortment of race hustlers are just using these guys as pawns in a powerplay to advance his political ambitions and their standing in the black community. The accused are rich, white males and the alleged victim was a poor, black female, and that happy juxtaposition gives the DA a golden opportunity to pick up some votes among the leftists on Duke's campus and among resentful blacks in Durham. All he has to do to secure those votes is publically crucify these young men and destroy their lives. For people with political ambitions that's not much to ask.

It really is hard to say who the biggest sleazes are in this sordid tale: the woman, who is obviously a moral and psychological basket case; the athletes, who sound themselves like moral and emotional midgets; the police, who seem to have compromised and corrupted their ethical and professional responsibilities; or District Attorney Nifong, who gets our vote for "biggest slug" in the case since he is willing to destroy lives and imprison people when there is no evidence that they did anything illegal, just so he can elevate his standing among a political constituency.

Unless Nifong has some secret blockbuster videotape of the alleged assault occuring, he deserves to be politically ruined and sued for defamation. Even if he has such a tape he deserves the same fate since it's incumbent upon him to disclose to the defense all the evidence he has against the athletes and he hasn't.