Zarqawi Strike Ends Years of Hunting, Intel Gathering

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The military strike that killed al-Qaida leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was the culmination of years of pursuit by the U.S. armed forces, intelligence services and Iraqi collaborators. Madeleine Brand discusses the air strike on a "safe house" in Baqouba, a city north of Baghdad, with NPR Pentagon reporter Tom Bowman.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY, I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand. The pentagon credits coalition and Iraqi security forces working together to target and kill al-Qaida leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. We're joined now by NPR Pentagon Correspondent Tom Bowman with more on the operation. And Tom can you give us some more details? Were, were the Iraqis and the Americans really working closely together?

TOM BOWMAN reporting:

Well clearly this more of an American operation and we've learned that there were two Air Force F-16's that led the way and they dropped at least one five hundred pound bomb known as a J Dam. This is a bomb controlled by a global positioning system. Very accurate and can operate regardless of the weather and by punching coordinates this bomb can go right to the target. We've also learned that there was an unmanned drone called a predator flying over the safe house and this drone has a TV camera on its nose and can send back live pictures. And in addition there were, what the military calls eyes on the target. There were special operations forces on the ground as well as air force controllers. Now these guys would help guide the F-16's to the target likely using the video from the predator and communicating by radios. So, the American military often likes to say that the Iraqis are partners with the Americans, but in this operation, clearly the U.S. was in charge and in the lead.

BRAND: And I understand this operation was in the planning for weeks. And I'm wondering what you can tell us about the intelligence behind it.

BOWMAN: That's what Army Major General Bill Caldwell told reporters today that there was a painstaking process, took many weeks. They had human spies, apparently senior leaders of Zarqawi's network. Now interestingly, they also had eavesdropped information. He talked about what's called signals intelligence. So that tells me they were picking up cell phone conversations or radio conversations of Zarqawi or his people had. Which on the face of it is unusual because most people in his line of work do not use cell phones or radios anymore because they realize how quickly the Americans can pick them up. Bin Laden for example hasn't used a phone in probably four years, since they last heard him at Tora Bora in the mountains of Afghanistan. So that was unusual but clearly this provided the detailed information about his whereabouts. And as Major General Caldwell told reporters today, they had a hundred percent confirmation Zarqawi was in the house.

BRAND: Did they have an informant?

BOWMAN: Well as I said they had senior leaders of his network they're saying providing information. So that was obviously helpful. But again, the eavesdropping information, the cell phones or radios would have pinpointed his exact location or that of his top people.

BRAND: And, and I understand Zarqawi was not the only al-Qaida leader in Iraq who was killed in this operation. What do we know about the others who may have been taken out with him?

BOWMAN: Well we know that a total of six people were killed and included the spiritual leader, Zarqawi's spiritual leader, Sheik Abdel Rahman, he was among the dead. We don't have the names yet of the others but we also know that a woman and a child were also killed.

BRAND: Okay, well thank you very much Tom.

BOWMAN: Thank you.

BRAND: NPR Pentagon Correspondent, Tom Bowman.

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