SF in Iraq Long Before War Began

5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) 

US Special Forces in Iraq Long Before War Began

29 April 2003 

Voice of America         Alex Belida     Pentagon

U.S. Special Forces worked secretly with Iraqi townspeople on the outskirts of Baghdad for months before the war with Iraq got under way. The disclosure comes in an otherwise unremarkable news release from the U.S. military's Central Command about American troops assisting in the election of a town council just outside the Iraqi capital. 

It says soldiers from the U.S. 5th Special Forces Group worked for over eight months with the people of Abu Gharib, a town of over a million on the western outskirts of Baghdad, just north of the international airport. That would put the Special Forces in the town last August or September, well before the start of the war last month. 

The release gives few details on the U.S. presence before the war. It quotes a Special Forces team leader, identified only as Captain Mike, as saying the rapport developed with townspeople helped considerably in arranging last week's election. 

Thousands of American Special Forces took part in the war in Iraq -- securing airfields, attacking government and terrorist facilities and removing the Iraqi military's capability to launch missiles against neighboring countries. But little is known about their involvement in secret operations before the actual start of the war. 

During a briefing earlier this month, Army Major General Stanley McChrystal of the Pentagon's Joint Staff, characterized the use of Special Operations units as more extensive than in any other recent conflict. "They are more extensive in this campaign than any I have seen," he says. "Probably, as a percentage of effort, they are unprecedented for a war that also has a conventional part to it." 

General McChrystal said, in the north, Special Operations forces worked with Kurdish groups, while in the west, they engaged in attacks on airfields, suspected weapons of mass destruction sites and some Iraqi military command-and-control facilities. 

He said that, in the south, Special Forces assisted conventional units with reconnaissance and other, unspecified activities. He then made what might be a brief reference to the kind of work done by the unit working in Abu Gharib months before the war. "Then, additionally, some of the work in some of the cities to help the Shi'a element," he says. "So, it's probably the most effective and the widest use of Special Operations forces in recent history, clearly." 

It is unclear whether Special Forces remained in Abu Gharib throughout the months leading to the start of the war. However, Pentagon officials have in the past indicated some Special Forces units moved in and out of Iraq before the war, without maintaining a permanent presence.

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Pentagon Revises Disclosure on US Special Forces in Iraq


30 April 2003

Voice of America.. Alex Belida.. Pentagon

The U.S. military's Central Command now says it made a mistake earlier this week when it reported American commandos worked secretly on the outskirts of Baghdad for months before the war with Iraq got under way. But the correction raises new questions. 

The original disclosure came in an otherwise unremarkable news release from the U.S. military's Central Command about American troops assisting in the election of a town council just outside the Iraqi capital. 

It said soldiers from the U.S. 5th Special Forces Group worked for over eight months with the people of Abu Gharib, a town of over a million on the western outskirts of Baghdad just north of the international airport. 

That would put the Special Forces in the town last August or September, well before the start of the war last month. 

The release gave few other details but it quoted a Special Forces team leader identified only as Captain Mike as saying the fact U.S. troops had been in the area before the start of the war helped considerably in arranging last week's election. 

Now, in a revised news release, Captain Mike has disappeared altogether, a decision the release says is in conformity with Army Special Forces Public Affairs policy on identification of personnel. 

Also changed is the date Special Forces arrived in Abu Gharib. Dropped is the reference to an eight month presence. The revised release says Special Forces have been working with townspeople since early April, after the start of the war. 

Pentagon officials appeared embarrassed by the revision. They said they were caught by surprise, particularly since the process of making public the original news release involved several individuals and a system of checks and balances in order to prevent errors. They thought the unusual disclosure in the first statement was an intentional effort to shed some light on commando activities. 

They now suspect the revised release may have been motivated more by a desire to protect Special Forces secrets than to actually correct the record. 

Though Special Forces activities are generally secret, defense sources acknowledged earlier this week that the elite commandos had been in and out of locations in Iraq well before the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Because of that, they did not dispute the original statement. 

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Military Says It Gave Errant Information


Wed 30 April 2003 

 

Iraqi men and a boy 

stay in line to get first aid from a 

Saudi Red Crescent Clinic 

on the outskirts of Baghdad

Wednesday, April 30, 2003. 

 

AP Photo

Alexander Zemlianichenko

 
By NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press Writer 

CAMP AS SAYLIYAH, Qatar - U.S. Central Command said Wednesday it erred when it said U.S. Army special forces had been secretly working in an Iraqi city for months before the war began, when they'd only been working with residents since early April. 

Central Command revised an earlier announcement, correcting the dates that special forces had been working with residents of Abu Ghraib in organizing an election for a city council from August or September to April. 

Special forces soldiers often operate behind enemy lines, but it is unusual for the military to announce details. The original announcement piqued interest because it appeared to confirm the presence of special forces in Iraq (news - web sites) well before the Bush administration began publicly discussing its Iraq war plans. 

"We don't talk about operations like that," said Navy Cmdr. Kevin Aandahl, spokesman for special operations forces here, who said the news release issued Monday was wrong. "It was factually incorrect to say eight months." 

Originally, Central Command had said soldiers from the Army's 5th Special Forces Group had worked with residents for over eight months in organizing the first free election in Iraq's recent history. It cited Capt. Mike, the special forces' team leader, as saying the presence of his forces in the area before the start of the war had "helped considerably" with their efforts in the city. 

On Wednesday, Central Command said the work with residents began in early April, and omitted Capt. Mike's comments about the significance of a prewar presence. It attributed other quotes to an unidentified team leader. 

Aandahl declined to say when special operations forces entered Abu Ghraib, a city west of Baghdad that is the site of a notorious prison. The new Central Command release only comments on when work with residents began, not when special forces team arrived. Aandahl said he didn't know whether Capt. Mike's original comments about a prewar presence were accurate. 

Special forces teams have had a presence "in various places in Iraq. We're not saying where insertions took place, when they took place, and how long," he said. 

He also said the original press release erred in identifying Capt. Mike, saying it didn't follow proper procedures in identifying special forces officials. 

The original press release also gave the hometown of another special operations official that was omitted in the second press release and identified the special operations unit involved, which was also left out in the second version. 

Aandahl did not comment when asked whether an investigation was under way to ascertain how such inaccurate information was released. He referred questions to Combined Forces Land Component Command officials, who he said was responsible. 

Efforts to reach the officials Wednesday were unsuccessful. Many of them have moved from bases in Kuwait into Baghdad. 

"We strive at all lengths to put out factual information," Aandahl said. "In this particular case, it was a major error in fact."