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Zarqawi's Hideout Was Secret Till Last Minute

Once Abdel Rahman arrived, Caldwell said, U.S. military officials were presented with what appeared to be their first clean shot of Zarqawi since the start of the war -- fixed in one spot for the time being, without large numbers of innocent civilians around him.

However, "we did not have actual physical ground troops in the area," Caldwell said.

Commanders decided to call in an airstrike, Caldwell said. They quickly located two Air Force F-16s within striking range, one engaged in refueling at the time, Caldwell said.

One F-16 was ordered to peel off for the mission.

"He left his wing man" and headed off as a "single ship" -- something "that is not done in the Air Force," Caldwell said, highlighting the immediacy of the mission.

Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, was told by commanders just before the strike that Zarqawi's hideout was about to be hit, the spokesman said.

The F-16 hit at about 6:15 p.m., following instructions to drop two bombs, Caldwell said.

The strike killed three men, two women and a girl age 5 to 7, Caldwell said. U.S. officials previously had denied accounts from witnesses that a child died in the strike; Caldwell said he had been told only after his first press briefings that one of the dead was a girl.

Of the six victims, he said, authorities have identified only Zarqawi and Abdel Rahman.

Iraqi police, who have a station a few miles away, were the first on the scene, American and Iraqi officials say. By the time American forces arrived, the Iraqis had Zarqawi on a stretcher, Caldwell said.

A villager, Ahmed Mohammed, on Friday told The Washington Post and news agencies that American forces hit and kicked the gravely wounded Zarqawi when they arrived on the scene, demanding his name.

Caldwell gave a different account, saying that one of the first Americans on the scene tried to give first aid to Zarqawi as others sought to confirm his identity.

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