January 20, 2003
BY JACK KELLEY
JORDAN-IRAQ BORDER#As the Bush administration moves into what officials call the last phase of the showdown with Iraq, the United States is undertaking a vigorous military and intelligence effort to track, and possibly kill, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
The effort involves small teams of U.S. special operations forces and CIA paramilitary units inside and around Iraq, satellite imagery, radio intercepts and airborne reconnaissance, U.S. intelligence officials say.
The activities are part of a strategy to pressure Saddam to depart or disarm and, if he won’t, pave the way for a U.S.-led invasion.
In advance of a possible war:
*Nearly 100 U.S. special operations forces and more than 60 CIA operatives have been conducting reconnaissance missions in Iraq’s deserts and outside its major cities since September, senior U.S. and Arab intelligence officials said. The missions include monitoring troop movements at bases used by the Iraqi Republican Guard, Saddam’s most loyal defenders. The U.S. forces are also scouting landing strips for U.S. and coalition aircraft and training opposition Kurdish and Shiite leaders to fight against Saddam.
*Nearly 35,000 feet above Iraq, a converted Boeing 707 is flying 10 hours a day, recording conversations of top Iraqi officials and pinpointing locations of those calls to within a mile.
*Two spy satellites, code-named Micron and Trumpet, are intercepting calls and walkie-talkie transmissions from Iraqi military sites, Saddam’s motorcade, his palaces and other areas. A U.S. official said Saddam is aware of such efforts.
The U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., which oversees military operations in Iraq, and the CIA in Langley, Va., declined comment.
Few U.S. officials believe Saddam will flee Iraq or seek asylum. One U.S. diplomat in the Middle East said the goal is to oust Saddam, but under a directive by President Bush to the CIA, the Special Forces can kill the Iraqi leader if they believe their lives are in danger.
Gannett News Service