Special operations forces in Iraq
By Kris Osborn
(CNN) -- The U.S. military says special operations forces are busy in Baghdad. A military spokesman confirms to CNN that special operations units are conducting covert missions in the Iraqi capital.
The missions are said to involve a range of activities, including reconnaissance, target acquisition and, in the words of one official, "looking for personalities and chemicals."
According to the spokesman, many of the missions are joint operations drawing from all elements of the coalition, including units from the Air Force, Army and Navy.
Cmdr. Kevin Aandahl with Coalition Forces Special Operations Command in Doha, Qatar, says, "We have been conducting missions in many places throughout Iraq. Allied special operations forces are doing things that have never been done on such a large scale and with phenomenal results."
Military sources acknowledge the difficulties of the current intelligence picture, recognizing that not only are they unaware of the location and fate of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, but also remain somewhat unaware of just how many Iraqi Republican Guard fighters and paramilitary Fedayeen Saddam forces are still alive and willing to fight.
Pentagon and Central Command officials have said the U.S.-led coalition has significantly weakened the Republican Guard. However "one thing about the Republican Guard," says a military spokesman, "is that they have great flexibility to adapt in the face of adversity."
Among the key concerns, according to military officials, is that Fedayeen Saddam fighters might launch suicide attacks using chemical weapons.
"The Fedayeen may have nothing to lose," a military spokesman says, "they are the Gestapo of the Baathist party. They could see a suicide attack with chemical weapons as a final gesture of loyalty or honor. The Iraqis used chemical weapons very effectively against the Iranians in the 1980s, killing thousands of them."
CNN military analyst, retired Brig. Gen. David Grange has experience with these kinds of challenges, having commanded a special operations task force during Operation Desert Storm. He says Iraq's remaining Republican Guard and Fedayeen forces "will continue to seek to terrorize the Iraqi public. Part of how the Iraqis run their army is through propaganda. They use the Fedayeen as political instruments to make sure people are following the party line."
Complicating efforts, a military official says, is the fact that they know the U.S.-led coalition is looking for them.
"The Iraqis are adept at deception and camouflage; they know how to adapt and defeat overhead imagery. For example, during the Gulf War, U.S. forces shot up hundreds of 'dummy Scud warheads' and 'inflatable tanks' from the air," a military spokesman says.
U.S. forces have been working to thwart this strategy in Operation Iraqi Freedom. One military official says, "Gen. Franks' plan called for getting up close to them personally and quickly in order to take away their ability to hide forces."
A Central Command official tells CNN "The Iraqis are good at camouflage, however you counteract their ability with intelligence of many kinds, including human intelligence."
Part of this assault, according to military sources, has relied heavily on a specialized helicopter unit called the Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR). Military officials say the 160th helicopter unit is being used to hunt Scuds and perform interdiction missions throughout western and northern Iraq. A military spokesman says this includes numerous attacks on enemy convoys.
Specifically, a military spokesman says, SOAR helicopter units provided a significant air element and "supporting fire" during the recent special operations raid on Saddam's Tharthar Presidential Palace northwest of Baghdad. The spokesman says the mission drew from a covert unit of more than 300 specially trained pilots flying MH-47 Chinook Helicopters, the MH-6 "Little Bird" and specially configured MH-60 Black Hawks.