- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 8, 2005

The United States is using the same types of tactics to catch Abu Musab Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden as those that netted Saddam Hussein in a “spider hole” in Iraq.

Although bin Laden’s trail went cold last year after an extensive hunt in Pakistan’s rugged tribal areas, the path to Zarqawi is festooned with tips and sightings that nearly resulted in his apprehension in February.

“I’m absolutely confident that if he stays in Iraq, he will be captured, or if he resists, he’ll be killed,” Marine Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, Joint Chiefs director of operations, told reporters.

A Sunni Muslim loyal to bin Laden, Zarqawi has a simple strategy: Kill innocent Iraqis, especially Shi’ites. The slaughter has instilled hatred of Zarqawi among many Iraqis, thus producing tips on his whereabouts, some real, some fiction, U.S. officials say.

The military captured Saddam in December 2003 by setting up a high-value-target intelligence center. It began peeling the onion. Agents first questioned those who had contacts with Saddam’s guards and political aides. It then peeled another layer by talking to the inner circle.

Searchers in Afghanistan tried the same method on bin Laden last year, U.S. officials said, so far to no avail.

Although the military receives more tips on Zarqawi, challenges remain. He has few close ties in Iraq and meets with only a few of his operatives, said a senior U.S. official who served in Baghdad.

A source in the special operations community said U.S. manhunters are relying on the full spectrum of intelligence — humans, eavesdropping equipment, satellites and drones — to find the Jordanian-born Zarqawi.

“Name something, they’re using it,” the source said.

The Pentagon, after ousting Saddam, set up a secretive task force whose only objective is to catch the most-wanted, including Zarqawi.

It is made up of warriors from the secretive Joint Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, N.C., as well as CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency officers, special aircraft units, and a military spy unit that goes by a code name and specializes in intercepting communications.

“In terms of the effort [in] the search for Zarqawi, I think it’s not a surprise that some of our best and most capable forces in Iraq are dedicated to the mission,” Gen. Conway said. “They respond anytime that there is a tip or an indicator that he might be present.”

With a $25 million bounty on his head, Zarqawi is spurring tips.

“Tips are starting to come in more frequently on all manner of things that help us fight the insurgency,” Gen. Conway said.

The most promising landed in the lap of U.S. Marines in February near Ramadi in western Iraq. But by the time Marines and special operations forces arrived at the targeted house, Zarqawi had slipped away in a convoy. By the time forces stopped the convoy and apprehended two top Zarqawi aides, he had jumped off a truck and escaped. The military learned of his fate when they rechecked a tape of a Predator drone video that had been tracking the vehicles, The Washington Times reported in March.

Although not offering details of the near miss, Lt. Gen. John Sattler, the top Marine in Iraq at the time, said poor visibility because of the weather was partly to blame for missing Zarqawi.

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