Following the “Rachel” and “Racket” operations, Detachment One was set to hunt for an HVT known only as “X” (the actual identity of “X” still hasn’t been unclassified). “X” was believed to be a high-level insurgent facilitator; one of his associates had been captured in May, putting him on the operational radar. He showed signs of military and intelligence training and had eluded capture more than once already. A previous task group had been after him and had come up short every time. Part of the reason for this, in addition to his proven tradecraft, was the fact that he could not be positively identified. There were no images of him in Coalition hands.
The Det personnel, including Maj Carter, Captain Batts, and GySgt Johnston (who was the liaison between the Det and various other government agencies), began working with other government agencies to start zeroing in on “X.” While the agencies had sources close to “X”s organization, those sources weren’t highly-placed enough to lead anyone to “X” himself. So, they started small.
A source was able to finger a van that was used by “X”s organization, and assets started tracking the van. In a short time, they were able to use the van’s movements to determine the residence of one of “X”s subordinates on the northeast edge of Baghdad. The residence was code-named “Red Bull” and the Det One Marines started preparing for the hit.
This was not a time-sensitive target. The Det One Marines spent two weeks preparing for the raid. While this might seem like a long time to prep for a raid (and in a combat environment, it is), there was a good reason for it: other assets were using their sources and methods to attempt to lure “X” to the residence on the night of the raid.
On the evening of May 11, the raid force was on the vehicles, lined up and waiting for the “go.” The intel and support staff were in contact with the case officer, who was in contact with the source, who was watching the house. As soon as the source signaled that the man suspected of being “X” was on-site, the convoy launched.
The Marines hit the house smoothly and uneventfully. There was no resistance. There was also no “X.” He had slipped away. Later investigation revealed that there had been a break in contact with the source, who had not had eyes-on the target building for that time.
The raid wasn’t a complete bust, though. The owner of the house was an associate of “X”, and had in fact been schooled in bomb-making by the HVT. The house also provided a wealth of intelligence further revealing elements of “X”‘s operations.
“X” wasn’t standing still, however. Shortly after the raid, one of the sources close to his organization was murdered, along with his young daughter. This was not the first source who had been found out and killed. The Marines pushed harder to close the net and catch “X.”
Around the 3rd week in May, the Det prepared to hit Objective Raccoon, a set of three buildings in a rural area south of Baghdad that was believed to be “X”s residence. Even if “X” wasn’t there, they expected family members and associates to be there, further putting the squeeze on his network and operations.
On the 21st of May, just before midnight, Task Unit Raider hit Raccoon. The cover aircraft, carrying Chief Hospital Corpsman Eric Prine and Maj Priddy, spotted several individuals standing around outside the buildings. The Marines roared up in their vehicles, detained one male outside, and hit the northernmost house. As soon as it was clear, the entry teams reboarded their vehicles and left the search to the security element. They then raced to hit the two other buildings on the site, where they detained six more men. One tried to run for it, and with the cover aircraft providing direction and overwatch, MSgt Padilla’s team ran him down on foot in about 20 minutes.
The site exploitation came up with some bomb-making materials and one of the vans spotted consistently in surveillance efforts on “X”s operations. The Marines dropped the detainees off at task group headquarters, and arrived back at their own base of operations on Camp Myler at about 0114.
The interrogations of the detainees from Raccoon revealed a lot of useful information about “X” and his activities, but also provided another benefit. Several of the men taken on Objective Raccoon were related to “X,” and all bore a strong family resemblance to each other, giving the Marines an idea of what “X” looked like for the first time. They were narrowing down his identity, as well as his location.
By the 8th of June, they had another target, this time code-named Objective Razor, another rural location outside of Baghdad. One of the trucks bogged down in a ditch 400 meters from the objective, delaying the hit for 15 minutes. Finally, Maj Kozeniesky made the call to push on foot, and they moved in, isolated the first of three structures, breached, and cleared it. Then the assault elements hit the next two buildings simultaneously. They detained 14 men, but released all but two immediately. One of the two matched the description of “X.”
Taking the two detainees back to Camp Myler, the interrogations began. It turned into a battle of wits and time between the man tentatively ID’ed as “X” and the intelligence Marines. At first he denied being who they said he was, until he was identified by a relative from a photo taken upon his capture. Then, once he admitted that he was “X,” he denied that he’d done anything wrong, or was involved in the insurgency in any way. He was smugly confident, and the interrogators were sure he was banking on the rules that said they only had so long they could keep him before letting him go or turning him over to someone else.
With time running out, Maj Carter got an idea. He got permission from Maj Kozeniesky and Commander Wilson, bundled “X” onto an aircraft, and flew to Kirkuk. When the blindfold next came off “X”s eyes, he found himself in a room faced with three Kurdish security officers.
Coalition forces were under very strict rules for interrogations and detainee handling. Some of this had come out of the Abu Ghraib scandal. The Kurdish authorities in the north were under no such strictures, and had plenty of animosity for Arabs in general and the insurgents in particular. Faced with interrogators whose rules he couldn’t manipulate, “X” started talking. What he didn’t know was that Maj Carter and another agency representative were standing behind him to make sure things didn’t get out of hand. They didn’t need to. The presence of the Kurds loosened his tongue.
MCSOCOM Detachment One had further proved its capabilities, combining the intel and counter-intel capability directly with the direct action mission to hunt down and capture an individual who had not been previously positively identified. Going from a name, with no description and no picture, to a capture in a matter of weeks. While this was by no means the only line the Det was following in May and June of 2004, it was definitely the biggest single catch. It wouldn’t be the last, either.