They're relentless manhunters, often referred to ambiguously as the "coalition forces" in mission briefings and reports. Yet this shadowy group, Task Force 145, is a veritable all-star team of Special Forces. The Task Force has now been thrust into the spotlight after leading the way to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Reportedly, Task Force 145 was a Pentagon post-9/11 creation formed in the summer of 2003 when the military merged two existing special operations units assigned to locate Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein and his sons in Iraq. TF 145 is composed of elite personnel from American Delta Force, Navy SEAL Team 6, Army Rangers and British Special Forces, as well as members of the FBI and CIA. According to a recent article in the Army Times, TF 145 is divided into four subordinate task forces in Iraq: Task Force West, Task Force Central, Task Force North, and Task Force Black, which is made up of the British Special Air Service "saber squadron" and the British Special Forces Support Group.
"Task Force 145 uses a process that they call the unblinking eye, which is essentially a very tight linkage between intelligence and operations, meaning that as soon as they have intelligence they want to act on it, rather than sit and dwell on it for days at a time," said Sean Naylor, who reported a piece on TF 145 for the Army Times.
The group is currently based out of a secret base in Balad, Iraq. After the capture of Saddam Hussein, TF 145 was assigned one main task: Capture or kill terrorist mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and dismantle his al Qaeda network.
After years of tracking him, the unit played an integral role in digging up the intelligence that led to al-Zarqawi's death early Wednesday morning.
According to reports, these special operations groups were allowed to operate seemingly under a different set of rules than traditional military personnel. Allowed to wear civilian clothes and grow beards and long hair, TF 145 has also come under fire in the past for aggressive interrogation tactics.
"Anytime there was even a smell of Zarqawi nearby, they would go out and use any means possible to get information from a detainee," one military official said in a New York Times article in March.
In 2004, an early incarnation of the task force reportedly set up shop in one of Hussein's former military bases outside Baghdad, converting it into a top-secret detention and interrogation center.
The center was reportedly called Camp NAMA, said to be a ribald acronym for Nasty Ass Military Area, with a reported slogan of "no blood, no foul." One of the most reported aspects of Camp NAMA was the "Black Room" -- an interrogation cell adorned with 18-inch hooks jutting from the ceiling, remnants of Hussein's torture chambers.
When the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib was made public in April 2004, attention shifted next to the task force. Camp NAMA came under scrutiny and was later closed that summer amid charges of serious prisoner abuse.
"The reality is, there were no rules there," a Pentagon official said in the Times article.
However, that reputed cowboy mentality that drew criticism to Camp NAMA also allowed the group to rev up its pace, reportedly going on six to seven missions a day. Using a combination of intelligence, interrogation and ground and air assaults, TF 145 raided and destroyed al Qaeda in Iraq safe houses and, whenever possible, captured operatives.