Near Baghdad, U.S. Troops Encounter 'Remarkable' Foe
Near Baghdad, U.S. Troops Encounter a 'Remarkable' Foe
Saturday 05 April 2003
'Jihad' forces from Syria, Egypt, Marine officers say
AL MUHAYDI AS SALIH, Iraq - It was early morning, and the blue skies over this farming community less than 20 miles south of Baghdad turned black and hazy with the smoke of burning oil.
It was also the beginning of one of the longest, hardest days to date for members of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines. Before it was over, one Marine was killed in action by a sniper and at least two others were injured.
An M-1 Abrams tank - considered the safest ride in Iraqi because so little could destroy it - was left smoldering on the highway, its ammunition shooting and spraying like a fireworks show. Dozens of enemy fighters lay dead in a farmer's field, and dozens more were captured.
The Marines were not battling the Iraqi army or Saddam Hussein's elite Republican Guard, but a group of well-trained fighters from Syria, Egypt and perhaps other countries, Marine officers said.
They were an enemy who fought with more will than any other fighters the Marines have encountered so far.
The "jihad" fighters, as Marines dubbed them yesterday, wore civilian clothes or full-length black robes. They were equipped with brand new ammunition and some of the best sniper rifles and armaments money can buy. They set pools of oil on fire, masking the skies with eye-stinging black smoke.
More than anything, however, they showed determination as fighters.
"They wouldn't give up," said Capt. Ethan Bishop, commander of India Company, which lost one of its Marines in a firefight yesterday. "It was a tough fight, and they are still out there." The Marine was shot in the abdomen by a sniper while trying to clear the enemy from an open field outside this town.
The Marines appeared a little stunned by the resistance.
"It was very intense. I lost of one my best friends," said Lance Cpl. Jeromy Pilon, 20, of Spokane, Wash., who was preparing for a night on watch after the battle. "I thought it was going to be a little more relaxed."
Until yesterday the Marines had pushed north at a brisk pace and encountered less resistance than expected from elements of the Iraqi army and Republican Guard. On Wednesday the Americans had seized the city of Numaniyah on the banks of the Tigris River, causing hundreds of Iraqi fighters to flee.
The next day they pushed aggressively into Aziziyah, where the fighting was more intense but short-lived. By Thursday evening, the town's residents poured into the streets and welcomed the Americans with cheers and smiles. The residents ransacked the Baath Party headquarters, looting an air conditioner, microwave and televisions and radios before burning pictures of Saddam Hussein.
Yesterday morning, the Marines left the outskirts of Aziziyah with high spirits for what they assumed would be a quick drive to Baghdad. They drove quickly in their amphibious assault vehicles, their tracks grinding along the paved highway. Along the way, families stood in front of their homes waving scraps of white cloth - symbols of surrender and, so it seems, support for the Americans.
Approaching one town, the Marines decided to drive through at top speed, whatever the resistance. Their orders were to fire on anyone who would dare oppose them. The tactic is nicknamed "spray and pray." It worked. The Marines pushed through without a problem. Enemy tanks and trucks were parked along the roadside, smoldering from attacks by Marine tanks and attack helicopters.
Farther north, however, their task became more difficult. The oil fires set by the Iraqis reduced visibility. When four M-1 Abrams tanks entered this farming village, a suicide car bomber drove into the lead tank, causing a huge explosion of ammunition and armaments. Several Marines were injured, but officers could offer no details.
The attack from the jihad fighters came from both sides of the road. On one side was an Iraqi military training facility; a farmer's field was on the other. A Cobra attack helicopter floated above, firing missiles.
After launching a mortar barrage and an air attack, the Marines began sweeping out the enemy from both sides of the field.
From a distance, the Marines' movement looked like the movement of a very slow windshield wiper sweeping from one side of the field to the other.
Almost instantly the Marine was killed and two others were injured. As the Marines moved closer, they peppered enemy soldiers hidden in the tall grasses of the field with grenades and gunfire.
The jihadists fought back bravely and cleverly. Many of them pretended to be dead when the Marines approached.
"Then they would pop up two or three feet away from you and shoot at you," said 1st Lt. Alex D'Amico, executive officer of India Company. "These guys fought to the death, and they died in the process. The resistance that they showed was truly remarkable compared to other forces we've encountered. The fight today was particularly brutal."
The fighting continued for several hours until the early evening, when the Marines were pulled out and a mortar attack was called in. Round after round of explosives shook the farmland. A donkey stood calmly at the edge of the field, unmoved by the destruction around it.
The Marines retreated back to the road, where a water line was spraying long arcs of water from dozens of bullet holes. The Marines, who have not seen a shower in three weeks, took a moment to douse their heads in the water.
By nightfall the enemy started firing at the Marines again. There were new concerns about suicide attacks on the Marines. One suspected bomber had been stopped driving toward the battalion's command center.
The Marines camped near the battlefield. As they nodded off to sleep, one officer asked his men to be wary of any movement near their camp during the night:
"If it's out there, kill it."
Intelligence on Iraq Seen as 'Weak'
By Greg Miller and Bob Drogin
Los Angeles Times
Saturday 05 April 2003
Pentagon officials worry about inability to track Hussein and other top officials.
WASHINGTON -- With U.S. forces moving into Baghdad, military and other officials say there is a distressing lack of intelligence on the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein, his inner circle and the regime's suspected stores of banned weapons.
Iraqi television's broadcast Friday of a man said to be Hussein underscored the level of uncertainty, providing the most credible indication yet that he survived airstrikes some believed had killed him at the outset of the war.
That attack raised hopes that the war might end before it had fully begun, or at least that U.S. intelligence might have a good bead on the Iraqi dictator.
But officials said intelligence out of Baghdad since the attack had largely dried up, despite expectations that the enormous military pressure bearing down on Hussein's regime would prompt a wave of defections and a flood of information by this point in the war.
Pentagon officials this week expressed concern that intelligence on the Iraqi leadership was "weak" despite the daring work of CIA informants and operatives inside the capital city.
One senior Pentagon official struck a blind pose - eyes closed, arms extended - when asked about the quality of intelligence that war planners were getting.
"Nobody can tell us where anybody is," the official said. "Nobody can tell us what buildings they're in so that we can bomb them. I'd call that weak."
Intelligence officials dispute that characterization but acknowledge that they have had limited success in locating Hussein and other high-interest officials inside Baghdad. They also stress that it is an exceedingly difficult assignment.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, described it as "almost a mission impossible."
The spy community's most sensitive information is coming from a small number - perhaps a dozen or fewer - of Iraqi informants operating in Baghdad on behalf of the CIA and the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency.
The operatives were sent into Baghdad before the war started with high-speed communications gear that enables them to send sensitive information through encoded satellite transmissions and other means to CIA and DIA officers positioned elsewhere in Iraq, according to an intelligence official familiar with the operation.
The operatives scavenge for information on the whereabouts of the Iraqi leadership, serve as spotters at key locations in the city where Hussein and other members of his inner circle might surface and have directed U.S. airstrikes on a number of key targets.
Roberts praised the work of the operatives, saying, "The assets we have [in Baghdad] in regard to military targets have been excellent."
But he and others acknowledge that reliable, specific information on Hussein, his two powerful sons, Uday and Qusai, and others in the senior leadership has been scant to nonexistent. At the same time, information about banned weapons also has failed to surface.
"We've been making every effort," Roberts said. "But it's easier said than done. His modus operandi is that he's constantly on the move, using doubles" and relying on layers of security to prevent outsiders from getting close to him.
The best piece of intelligence produced so far - the tip that led to the initial strike aimed at Hussein - came from Iraqi sources who were subsequently whisked out of Baghdad to safety, several officials said. The officials added that it was not clear whether or when the operatives would be reinserted.
Intelligence officials described the Baghdad assignments as perhaps the most dangerous missions under CIA control. They said the effort has emphasized intelligence collection, and several denied published reports that the United States has paramilitary teams hunting Hussein in Baghdad or that it is engaged in assassination operations.
One U.S. official familiar with the latest intelligence on Iraq said there were indications that there was a crackdown within Hussein's regime after the first strike and that some members of his inner security ring were killed.
Outside Baghdad, CIA case officers and members of the agency's paramilitary Special Activities Division have been contacting Iraqi tribal leaders. Former agency officials said it was almost certain that these operatives were doling out cash, much the way they did in Afghanistan.
"I'm sure we've got guys with 80-pound rucksacks full of $100 bills," said a former CIA station chief. "I'm sure we're buying up some folks."
Another former CIA officer with extensive experience in Iraq said that Sunni tribes "are heavily represented in the security establishment" in Baghdad and that securing their loyalties could help coax forces close to Hussein to sit out the end of the war.
But other officials said the tribal leaders were just as likely to side with Hussein, if they felt he could survive, and pocket whatever CIA money they got.
CIA officials declined to comment on operations inside Iraq.
The missions in Baghdad are part of a massive effort that has so strained resources that dozens of CIA retirees have been brought back to the agency in recent months to shore up exhausted and overloaded analysts and clandestine officers.
"Just about everybody who wants a green badge is getting a green badge," an agency veteran said, referring to the colored identification tags given to retirees who return to CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., for contract work.
Much of that analytical energy has gone into preparing maps and demographic analyses of every sector of Baghdad, in expectation of block-by-block urban fighting.
The CIA, the State Department, the Pentagon and other U.S. government agencies have compiled lists of several thousand Iraqi government, security and intelligence officials, military officers and others who would be sought if the regime collapsed.
In the top tier are Hussein and his nine closest aides, including his sons. None of the top nine is known to have been captured or killed so far. At least some would likely be charged with war crimes for using chemical weapons in the 1980s.
Below them are tiers of officials who might be charged with other crimes, removed from a post-Hussein government in Baghdad or investigated further.
Those groups include senior Baath Party leaders, Republican Guard and other military chiefs, heads of government ministries and intelligence agencies, political commissars and key members of Hussein's numerous secret police agencies and death squads.
How reliable the lists are is unclear. Iraq has a vast web of overlapping security and spy services that were modeled on East Germany's infamous Stasi, or secret police. U.S. officials broadly estimate that at least 20,000 people are active officers in those agencies, which include the Mukhabarat, the chief security agency.
Family May Have Fled
One reliable intelligence source said there were credible reports that some members of Hussein's family left Iraq before the war started.
According to the reports, Hussein's first wife is in Syria and his third wife is in the United Arab Emirates. The whereabouts of his second wife, whom he married after ordering her to divorce the head of Iraqi airlines, is unknown.
Absent another intelligence breakthrough on a par with the tip that triggered the first strike on Hussein, many officials said the outcome in Baghdad will depend on the U.S.-led forces' ability to seize control of city sectors and shake loose information from detainees or defectors.
After the 1991 Persian Gulf War, U.S. Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf was harshly critical of the CIA's performance, chiding the agency for consistently overestimating enemy troop and tank counts, among other things.
The CIA received a great deal of credit, however, for its prominent role in Afghanistan.
Officials said the Pentagon and the CIA have cooperated smoothly on Iraq, but they acknowledged new frictions in recent weeks.
"There have been tussles galore between the agency and the Pentagon over whose light is shining brighter," one intelligence official said.
Intelligence officials say they remain convinced that Hussein was in the Dora Farm compound that was reduced to rubble by cruise missiles and bunker-busting bombs early March 20.
But the television appearance Friday, by raising the distinct possibility that Hussein had escaped the barrage, diminished the impact of the CIA's highest-profile contribution to the war so far.
Speaking in front of a sheet to obscure his location, Hussein praised an Iraqi peasant.
"Perhaps you remember the valiant Iraqi peasant and how he shot down an American Apache with an old weapon," he said, according to transcripts of the speech.
The reference matched Iraqi officials' claims that a single shot had downed an AH-64 Apache Longbow that the U.S. military acknowledges it lost in Iraq on March 24.
Other footage showed Hussein wading into a crowd of supporters against a backdrop of rubble and darkened skies that seemed to fit with recent pictures of Baghdad.
The CIA says it is still not fully convinced that Hussein is alive despite the new tapes.
"We flat don't know," an intelligence official said.
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