03 April 2010

Warrant Based Targeting: The Iraq Model

A USF-I press release recently informed the public of a successful round of targeting conducted in Northern Iraq. I want to analyze the overall targeting picture from the beginning of 2010 to the latest press release.

At the onset of the new year (January 2009), units deployed in Iraq could no longer capture and detain insurgents without a signed warrant from an Iraqi judge. The transition was a painful but necessary process. Collectively, we put our heads together to develop ways to prolong our pressure on the terror network under this new system. Prior to Jan 2009, if we had actionable intelligence on any insurgent, we simply put together a plan and executed it. The exploitation from the detained individual would usually lead us to our next operation. This targeting model became unsustainable post Jan. 2009.

Since the beginning of 2010, there have been three major rounds of successful targeting: January 5, 2010 A joint operation resulted in the death of the Wali of Northern Iraq, Abu Na'im al Afri, and the detention of the Admin Emir, a high level Sharia Emir, and the Detainee Affairs Emir. A roll up of the entire operation resulted in 2 AQI killed and 21 detained.

January 28, 2010 A joint raid led to the death of Abu Khalaf, AQI most senior foreign fighter facilitator. Abu Khalaf was historically based in Syria; however, the successful round of targeting from Jan. 5th probably forced Abu Khalaf to assume a more active leadership role within Iraq. This operation was not as large as the Jan 5 operation, but the death of Abu Khalaf was a major blow to AQI.

April 1, 2010 A series of joint raids in March resulted in the deaths of AQI's overall leader in Northern Iraq, Shaykh Khalid, economic security emir (financial), Abu Marwa, and the overall military emir of Mosul, Abu Huda. In addition to the deaths, the security forces also detained several key personalities from the extortion (financial/security) lines. One, the captured oil emir, being a former AQI leader in the al Anbar province.

There are some interesting trends that we can gleam from these reports:
1) I think the warrant based targeting model forced us to slow down our targeting cycle. Prior to Jan 2009, we don't see many solitary operations that resulted in the same success as the Jan 5th 2010 and March 2010 operations. The prior targeting model was simple, once you have enough intel you launch your assault force. I think we are now more deliberate and wait to develop a more holistic network picture, with solid warrant packets. The Jan 5th joint raid is most likely the current targeting TTP used in Iraq. I think the March raids were similar in the fact that there was probably solid warrant packets on Abu Huda and Abu Marwa prior to the operation launched to kill/capture the Wali of Northern Iraq. The previous comment is pure speculation on my part, it is possible that the exploitation of Shaykh Khalid provided key information that built a warrant packet complete enough to launch follow on operations. The reason I believe the intel picture was complete prior to Shaykh Khalid's death is; 24 hours between Abu Marwa and Abu Huda is not a lot of time to put a packet together and get it blessed off by an Iraqi judge. Also when targeting, the small fish usually lead you to the big fish, not the other way around. I think the new targeting model could be summarized as, understand the complete terror network and develop one large operation or multiple quick succession follow on operations casting a broad net over the entire network.

2) As our unit was leaving Mosul in 2009, there seemed to be a rising influence on the AQI leadership billets from the al-Afri (Tal Afar) tribal name. I was not surprised to read, on Jan 5th, that the Wali of Northern Iraq was held by someone who's name was Abu Na'im al Afri. As we see from the March 2010 rounds of targeting, the top two AQI positions were held by members of the Jabouri tribe. This is just a guess, but it looks like the al Afri tribe's influence on the AQI leadership is wanning.

3) The detention of the oil extortion emir was probably a major blow to the psyche of the AQI leadership, since the emir was a Legacy AQI member who fought the good fight down in al Anbar province. AQI is extremely good at replacing their killed/captured leadership; however, when key positions such as the Northern Wali have a high turn over rate, or legacy members are captured, it tends to have a deeper effect on the remaining leaders. Sometimes infighting will occur because it may look like there is a mole within their ranks.

The deaths of the Northern Wali within 90 days of each other is a major victory for the lethal targeting side of the house. Leadership positions above the Northern Wali are largely ceremonial. The Northern Wali is the highest leadership position that actually directs terror operations throughout Iraq. I believe Abu Khalaf either assumed the duties and responsibilities of the Northern Wali or was next in line at the time of his death. It is possible that the highest operational leadership position in Iraq has already turned four times this year. Successful pressure on this position will most likely provide the GOI the breathing room they need to continue to grow. Look for another large round of targeting to take place prior to July 1.


  1. http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2010/04/iraqi_forces_capture.php

    The Crux of my argument is, warrant based targeting lends itself more to large operations than continous targeting. The above link highlights more success in Northern Iraq which, on the surface, alludes to continuous targeting rather than the large operation model. Towards the end of my last depolyment I began to formulate an idea that I couldn't completely flush out. I believe that for rougly two weeks after a successful round of targeting, the new replacement has to adopt his predecessor's pattern of life in order to gain initial contact with his subordinates. Often in terror networks, the leadership do not allow their subordinates to completely know everything about each other in an attempt to limit successful exploitation of captured cell members. I think that this latest round of successful targeting occured within the two week period where the replacement leader had to adopt a similar patern of life that the counterinsurgents where intimately familiar with.

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  3. More good news from Mosul! US and Iraqi Forces continue to get after AQI leadership in the city with the capture of the newly appointed Mosul Emir and Mosul Military Emir. Check out the full story on the Long War Journal here .

    Very interesting that the press release explains that both leaders were captured in vehicle interdictions (VI) within the city limits. Good luck at a random checkpoint? Hmmm...