December 13, 2004
Only a year agoBy John B. Dwyer
Dedicated to the Soldiers of Task Force 1—22nd Infantry whose skill, perseverance and bravery ensured Saddam's capture
In the end, at the culmination of months of dangerous missions and painstaking intelligence work, he was pulled out of his hidey—hole in a farmyard near Ad Dawr on the east side of the Tigris River south of Tikrit.
Looking more like a homeless guy than a recent and ruthless dictator, Saddam Hussein had finally been captured.
'A dark and painful period is over,' said President George W. Bush.
Coalition Provisional Authority chief, L. Paul Bremer announced at the subsequent press conference:� 'We got him. The tyrant is a prisoner.'
Iraqi Governing Council president Adnan Pachachi observed:� 'Acts of violence will continue for the immediate future, but in the long run, his capture would bring stability to Iraq.'
It was indeed the watershed event of the post—Operation Iraqi Freedom period.� But with all that has occurred since in that liberated country, it is difficult to realize that it was only a year ago, December 13.� And it took the better part of a year to, in the words of the officer commanding the unit most responsible for bagging Saddam, 'drain the swamp sufficiently until we could see the alligator.'
The Brigade's area of operations encompassed hundreds of square miles, from Bajii and Lake Tharthar to the north and west, to Samarra and the Jabal Hamrin Ridge in the south and east.
A priority mission for TF 1/22 was ' locating and destroying or capturing personnel on the 'most wanted list' and the 'black list'...individuals associated with Saddam's regime... generally considered a threat to a post—war, free Iraq.'
The world came to know those wanted or black list personnel as faces on the 'deck of cards,' the high—value targets, with Saddam Hussein, HVT #1, the Ace of Spades on top.�
Though he would be the first to stress that bagging Saddam was a team effort, it was Lt. Col. Steve Russell who led it.� His valuable knowledge and experience helped ensure success.
A Del City, Oklahoma native and deeply religious man, Lt. Col. Russell took command of 1/22nd Infantry on June 11, 2003, several days after his 40th birthday.� Prior to that he was serving as III Corps Chief of Current Operations, G3, at Ft. Hood, Texas, home of the 4th ID.� No stranger to the Middle East, Russell had been a 3rd US Army planner in Kuwait for what became Operations Tora Bora and Anaconda in Afghanistan.� In Kabul, he led a team that organized Afghanistan's new army.� Two years before that he was Operations Officer for the 1st Infantry Division's 1/26th Infantry in Kosovo.
And it all began with a 4—year Army scholarship that Russell used to major in speech at Ouchita Baptist University.� A lover of history with some 2,000 books in his personal library, Russell took a master's degree in the subject.
That he first encountered the works of T.E. Lawrence ('Lawrence of Arabia') as a teenager and read Seven Pillars of Wisdom early in his career would prove serendipitous.
His team consisted of intelligence officers, Captains Timothy Morrow and Clay Bell.�� Major Stan Murphy headed up the intel shop at brigade level. The 1st Brigade reconnaissance element, G Troop, 10th Cavalry , LTC Russell's Recon Platoon, A and C Company, 1/22d� Infantry were commanded by: Captain Des Bailey, LT Chris Morris, Captains Mark Stouffer and Brad Boyd.� Invaluable team support was provided by the 720th Military Police Battalion, 1 Squadron, 10th Cavalry and 4th Battalion, 42d Field Artillery Regiment.����
Draining the Swamp�
Capturing the General was especially important as he was a member of Saddam's inner circle, penetration of which was vital to locating him.�
In both these actions, TF 1/22 worked closely, as they would at times throughout the hunt, with special operations forces of Task Force 20. In November, 2003, Task Force 121, which combined Task Force 5, formerly of Afghanistan with TF 20, was formed to streamline the search effort.
In late July another inner circle figure and Saddam bodyguard, Adnan Abdullah Abid Musslit, was captured.� Russell's task force had received detailed information about Musslit from locals, who knew him to be a vicious murderer.� As Russell later described it'� 'In a lightning raid, the Recon Platoon and A Company secured three houses in residential Tikrit.� We were looking for three men; two bodyguards and one former regime organizer.� Within 45 minutes we had all three,'
The July raids weren't always successful.� Saddam's first cousin was thought to be in a particular house 50 miles from Tikrit.� The location had been scouted by regimental and brigade recon personnel.� All TF 1/22 units participated, with C Company in rubber boats acting as a blocking force in the Tigris River.� After blowing down a heavy gate, raiding forces found their target had eluded them.� However, important documents full of new information were found along with more photographs. A cache of RPG launchers, ammunition and other weapons were found hidden in the yard.
Meanwhile, Russell's men continued with their other tasks.� As he later wrote:� 'Capturing Saddam was still a priority, but we would accomplish our other missions whether we caught him or not.'� He believed Hussein was still in the area because Tikrit represented Saddam's support base.
On August 1, three more suspects with regime connections and personal family, or rather clan, ties to Saddam were caught by TF 1/22.��������
Ten days later, the task force staged three more raids that netted two former Republican Guard officers — a division commander and a corps level chief of staff — and a leader of the Fedayeen Saddam militia.�
At Brigade intelligence back in June, Major Stan Murphy and his staff began charting as best they could the connections and relationships among all the important captured personnel.� At the outset, there were only four names.� That quartet began to grow exponentially and there came to exist a synergistic action—intel relationship between the activities of TF 1/22, their TF 121 associates, and what came to be known, (because of its growing size), as the Mongo List.
By September, the 5 controlling families that surrounded, supported and protected Saddam had been identified.� They all lived in villages straddling a 12 mile corridor along the Tigris River.� Two of those villages were Owja and Ad Dawr.� Each family had specific tasks such as logistics, operations or planning.� Each one then delegated assignments to a web of lower tier cells which also had individual responsibilities, e.g., safe houses, food, transportation.
During a series of raids in September, members of LTC Dave Poirier's 720th MPs captured a key member of a set of brothers with close connections to Saddam.� While this man was not a major figure, it was hoped he would lead the Hussein hunters to his much more important brothers.� And he did.� In early November, one of the key brothers was nabbed by special operations forces at a mud brick farm west of Tikrit.
LTC Russell later wrote:� 'Now we had a clear blood trail on the inner circle and an excitement began to build.� If we could break the inner circle, we felt it would come down fast.� It did.� On November 13 we conducted raids in Tikrit and pulled four more men from the swamp. Though lesser players, they were related to recent attacks and had some key information.'�
�One of the main reasons for this tremendous progress was the way Russell had dealt with Saddam's hometown of Owja in late October.
Solving The Owja Problem
After first informing the local tribal sheik about what he was going to do, on the 30th, Russell ordered Owja to be fenced off and a complete cordon was thrown around the village. There would be only one point of exit—entry.� Males 15 and older would have to register and receive a badge to enter or leave town.� To obtain the badge they had to go to the local police station and fill out an information form.� (During this process, three dozen individuals were detained for questioning.)� As they left or returned, everyone and anyone was subject to search.�
There was criticism of these methods, with some comparing the situation to that of Gaza or Jerusalem. The colonel refuted these criticisms by stressing that 1.) He had one of his own rifle companies inside the wire; 2.) cultures were not being separated; 3.) the town was not sealed off, but was being controlled.
Among other positive results of Russell's 'fishbowl' operation:� enemy command & control was disrupted; movements of suspected personnel could be monitored in surrounding villages, and if they fled they were able to be identified.�
'In the ensuing weeks,' wrote Russell, 'we began to get intelligence on people we had been looking for since June and July.� A sense of excitement restored our belief that we could knock the support out of Saddam's protective circle.'
Operation Red Dawn
In early November, one of the key brothers captured in September began to talk to interrogators,� providing information on his older, more important brothers.� One of them was quickly captured by special operations forces.� Then on November 13, TF 1/22 raids in Tikrit bagged four men with close ties to the inner circle.
The now—computerized Mongo List had grown very large and was much more definitive.� Major Murphy supervised two 8—man teams who sat at their monitors for 12—hour shifts around the clock.�
A cascade of events now ensued.
A joint TF 1//22 — SOF raid in Tikrit on December 2 captured another inner circle brother whose family helped protect Saddam.
A week later Captain Stouffer's A Company nabbed a known Saddam associate at a desert farmhouse and SOF troops caught another inner circle member.
On the morning of the 13th, Russell received a phone call from Col. Hickey.� 'I listened as Col. Hickey explained the snowball of information now gathering.� He told me to alert my soldiers for any contingency and to have a force ready at a moment's notice.� He planned to use us and the brigade recon troop.� We were going after the alligator.'
Thus began Operation Red Dawn, named after the patriotic 1984 movie about Russian communist forces invading America.�
Russell thought about all those raids TF 1/22 had conducted in farmland east of the Tigris and elsewhere, hoping each time that 'this is the one where we bag Saddam.'�������
This time, Col. Hickey told Russell to 'expect something in west Tikrit.'� No particular locale was indicated.� When more specific information became available, all units would act immediately.� In the late afternoon of the 13th, that information became known. Continued interrogation of the fat man had made him more cooperative and he told interrogators about The Site: Ad Dawr.� This meant the target location had moved from west to east Tikrit, across the Tigris.�
Col. Hickey was taking no chances.� Operational planning identified two objectives, a house and a farm, designated� Wolverine 1 and Wolverine 2.� He deployed some elements of his other forces — 4/42d Field Artillery and G Troop, 10th Cavalry — as outer and inner cordons around the objectives, with 1/10th Cavalry covering the air corridor.�
The remainder of his task force soldiers were on the west bank of the Tigris, opposite Ad Dawr, with A Company, 1/22d Infantry positioned right along the riverbank.
SOF troops hit both objectives. At 8:10 p.m. the team at Wolverine 2 reported finding a hole.� Several minutes later came the words, 'We have an individual in the hole.'� In it and nearby were: 1 pistol, 2 AK—47 rifles, $750,000 in US currency and a taxi.� Col. Hickey sealed off the area to preserve the site.� The 'individual' was whisked off by special operations forces.� Two hours later, Russell received a phone call from Col. Hickey, who relayed the good news.� 'Cesar Romero!' he exclaimed.� In earlier discussions of how Saddam might look now, Hickey had joked that he might resemble the famous actor.
Russell kept the news to himself, wanting in the worst way to share it immediately with his men who had striven so long and so hard for this moment.��
In an e—mail, Russell told this writer:� 'We knew our months of raiding, painstaking intel work and capture of several deck of cards leaders, along with large percentages of his outer and inner circle got us to where we were.� I am very proud of our part in his capture.� It was a great accomplishment for the United States and the 4th Infantry Division.'
4th Infantry Division commander, Major General Ray Odierno stated during a news conference that 'he was caught like a rat in a trap,' noting the irony of Saddam being found 'across the river from one of his great palaces built with money he robbed from the Iraqi people.'
President George W. Bush, informed of Saddam's capture Saturday afternoon, said in a nationwide address that it 'marked the end of the road for him and all who killed...in his name.� He will now face the justice he denied to millions.'
As of this writing, Saddam Hussein remains incarcerated at an unknown location awaiting trial.
After the forthcoming elections in Iraq, that trial will be held and justice will be served.���������
The author would like to offer special thanks to Lt. Col. Steve Russell for granting permission to cite selected material from his combat narratives published at the 1st Battalion, 22nd Inf. website http://1—22infantry.org and for his help in making this account possible.
John B. Dwyer is a military historian