Operation Red Dawn nets Saddam Hussein
Dec 13, 2003
Ten years ago this week, the U.S. Army captured Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein alive. The story of how he was located and captured is an intelligence success story. In an effort to highlight the intelligence aspects of this milestone event, the Military Intelligence Center of Excellence History Office has developed a five-minute video case study, “The Capture of Saddam Hussein: Human Intelligence Out Front.” The video can be accessed from the History Office located inside the MI Library on Fort Huachuca. The script of that video is excerpted here.
On March 20, 2003, Coalition troops invaded Iraq to oust dictator Saddam Hussein from power and free the Iraqi people. Within three weeks, U.S. forces secured Baghdad, but Hussein had escaped the capital city. A nine-month hunt for the deposed president followed. The trail to Hussein would be carefully developed by intelligence professionals using solid human intelligence, or HUMINT, tradecraft and detailed analysis techniques.
Following the collapse of Hussein’s regime, the 4th Infantry Division occupied the area in and around Tikrit, Hussein’s family home. Several tactical HUMINT teams consisting of U.S. Army interrogators, counterintelligence agents and interpreters also deployed throughout the area in the summer of 2003.
The daily interactions of these teams with local Iraqi citizens generated a vast amount of information about Hussein’s family network.
Initially, the search for Hussein focused on the aggressive pursuit of “high value targets,” those government leaders whose names were on the “black list,” or on the ‘Most Wanted’ “deck of cards.”
Early success came with the capture of several Iraqi leaders, including Hussein’s presidential secretary in mid-June 2003. However, while U.S. forces were netting high value targets, they were no closer to catching Hussein because his political power base scattered when the Iraqi regime fell.
Army intelligence personnel realized that political leaders were not the best path to finding Hussein.
Instead, analysts needed to focus on Hussein’s personal connections. Intelligence analysts with the 4th Infantry Division’s, 1st Brigade Combat Team, or BCT, developed a “Three Tier Strategy” based around five families who had known Hussein since his youth. Army intelligence personnel with the 1st BCT and Special Operations Task Force 121 created Link Analysis Diagrams showing Hussein’s network.
They began with personal relationships between his closest confidents and family members.
As individuals were captured or detained, interrogations revealed further connections, all of which were plotted on the diagrams. Raids of suspects’ homes netted additional evidence of unexpected connections in the network.
Analyzing this new wealth of information from various sources, Army intelligence personnel soon focused on the Al-Muslit brothers, members of Hussein’s inner circle of bodyguards. According to Master Sgt. James Ferguson, former intelligence analyst with the 4th Infantry Division, “The Muslit family was the key as far as they provided all the inner circle of bodyguards. We did a raid on the Omar Al-Muslit, who was the patriarch of the family on his farm and that provided us with a ton of pictures of who these people were. So we actually now had something to look for”.
On Oct. 11, the youngest Al-Muslit brother was caught and transferred to the 4th ID. During interrogation, he exposed Basim Latif, driver and close friend of Ibrahim Al-Muslit, the latter of whom was one of the few people Hussein trusted, and therefore, a possible key to finding his location. Basim, previously interviewed and released, was returned for further questioning. During the interrogation, he finally revealed Ibrahim Al-Muslit’s current location and that he reported directly to Hussein.
Events began to move quickly after the Basim interrogation. Early in the morning on Dec. 13, 2003, Task Force 121 raided one of the locations provided by Basim and captured Ibrahim Al-Muslit. “We knew we were close,” Ferguson said. “One of the task forces had captured Ibrahim Al-Muslit, and that’s the one everybody was tracking as being the key.”
During interrogation, Ibrahim finally revealed that Hussein was hiding at a farm in Ad Dawr, south of Tikrit. Later that evening as part of Operation Red Dawn, the 1st BCT and Task Force 121 targeted two farmhouses near the Tigris River. The initial search failed to locate Hussein; however, two cooperating HUMINT sources eventually revealed his hiding spot. Converging on the newly revealed location, Task Force 121 discovered a concealed hole in which the former dictator was hiding.
When the task force Soldiers pulled the cover off the “spider hole,” a shaggy, bearded man raised his hands and said, “I am Saddam Hussein. I am the president of Iraq, and I am willing to negotiate.” The commando leader calmly replaced the cover on the hole and replied, “President Bush sends his regards.”
The successful hunt for Hussein was a direct result of the persistent efforts of numerous Army intelligence officers, noncommissioned officers and enlisted personnel of the 4th ID’s 1st BCT and Special Operations Task Force 121. This clear victory was a tribute to detailed intelligence analysis and demonstrated the continued importance of one of the oldest intelligence disciplines, Human Intelligence.