Zarqawi's Hideout Was Secret Till Last Minute

By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, June 11, 2006

BAGHDAD, June 10 -- Mounted at the last minute by a single F-16 that was pulled away from refueling, the airstrike that killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi stemmed from tracking a top aide of the guerrilla chief to a hideout whose location was unknown until shortly before the attack, a top U.S. military spokesman disclosed Saturday.

New details about the operation still were emerging three days after two 500-pound bombs ended the hunt for Iraq's most-wanted man at a remote farmhouse in palm groves west of the Iraqi city of Baqubah. Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, a military spokesman, said U.S. forces had not known until Wednesday where Zarqawi was. With no heavy concentration of troops in the area, Caldwell said, American commanders decided to try to kill Zarqawi with an airstrike rather than wait to muster a ground assault to capture him, and risk his escaping.

U.S. forces treated Zarqawi's hideout "as a time-sensitive target," Caldwell told reporters.

As Caldwell spoke, two U.S. military specialists flown in from the United States were performing an autopsy on Zarqawi's corpse. Caldwell said he hoped for some results to be made public as soon as Monday, and he repeated that Zarqawi had not suffered any gunshot wounds in the attack.

Caldwell sketched a rough timeline of the events before, during and after Wednesday's assault.

American military officials say the breakthrough in the case was the pinpointing in recent weeks of a Zarqawi aide, Sheik Abdel Rahman, whom they described as Zarqawi's spiritual adviser. A U.S. intelligence source late this week portrayed Abdel Rahman as Zarqawi's liaison to Sunni Arab clerics in Iraq, to whom Abdel Rahman turned for funding, recruits and support.

The capture last month of an Iraqi customs worker, Ziad Khalaf al-Kerbouly, by Jordanian intelligence officers led the Americans to Abdel Rahman, said the U.S. intelligence source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Kerbouly, who said on Jordanian television May 23 that he had used his job to help Zarqawi smuggle cash and materiel, gave Jordanian intelligence agents Abdel Rahman's name and contacts, the intelligence source said.

A top secret U.S. Special Operations unit, Task Force 77, located Abdel Rahman and kept him under surveillance, the source said.

Caldwell refused on Saturday to confirm any of the reports on the intelligence that led forces to Abdel Rahman and then Zarqawi. Americans "were using every intelligence asset we had available,'' he said, adding that the hit would not have been possible without U.S. coalition partners. He did not specify which partners.

Using those intelligence leads, Caldwell said, Americans had been able to track Abdel Rahman's whereabouts and doings for several weeks. Those watching Abdel Rahman had been tipped off that he always carried out certain actions before a liaison with Zarqawi, Caldwell said, and he went through those actions Wednesday.

"Rahman did certain things that would be an indication he would be having [a meeting] with Zarqawi," Caldwell said.

However, as the Americans tracked Abdel Rahman that day -- apparently by air surveillance and other means -- "we didn't know that would be the house he would be going to," Caldwell said.


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