Task Force 121
- US Army Colonel Thomas M. Pappas "said that an 'OGA' team -- or Other Government Agency, a euphemism for the CIA -- known as Task Force 121 had caused problems by bringing detainees they had captured to Abu Ghraib and essentially dumping them without conducting any follow-up. 'It's a very cowboy kind of affair,' he said of Task Force 121."
Task Force 121 was in the news again: first they captured Saddam Hussein, now they're going after Osama bin Laden. David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt, in their February 29, 2004, New York Times article "New U.S. Effort Steps Up Hunt for bin Laden" reported that 
- "President Bush has approved a plan to intensify the effort to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, senior administration and military officials say, as a combination of better intelligence, improving weather and a refocusing of resources away from Iraq has reinvigorated the hunt along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
- "The plan will apply both new forces and new tactics to the task, said senior officials in Washington and Afghanistan who were interviewed in recent days. The group at the center of the effort is Task Force 121, the covert commando team of Special Operations forces and Central Intelligence Agency officers. The team was involved in Saddam Hussein's capture and is gradually shifting its forces to Afghanistan to step up the search for Mr. bin Laden and Mullah Muhammad Omar, the former Taliban leader...."
The Washington Times reported February 23, 2004, that the top-secret US commando team that helped capture Saddam Hussein is heading for Afghanistan. The Times says it's the latest sign that the hunt for bin Laden is coming to a head. The Defense Department says it is moving 'Task Force 121' to Afghanistan because its mission in Iraq is basically finished, and that intelligence on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden is growing.
The American Prospect carried the January 1, 2004, article "Phoenix Rising" by Robert Dreyfuss which described how "a new 3 billion USD fund is being used toward the creation of a paramilitary unit manned by militiamen associated with former Iraqi exile groups. Experts say it could lead to a wave of extrajudicial killings. 'They're clearly cooking up joint teams to do Phoenix-like things, like they did in Vietnam,' says Vincent Cannistraro, former CIA chief of counterterrorism." Part of "The New Iraq".
In the December 15, 2003, issue of The New Yorker magazine, Seymour M. Hersh wrote about a "new Special Forces group, designated Task Force 121, [which] has been assembled from Army Delta Force members, Navy seals, and CIA paramilitary operatives, with many additional personnel ordered to report by January. Its highest priority is the neutralization of the Baathist insurgents, by capture or assassination."
"'The Bush Administration has authorized a major escalation of the Special Forces covert war in Iraq,' reported The New Yorker's Hersh, who said that the proposed operation, 'called preemptive manhunting by one Pentagon adviser,' and secretly assisted by the Israeli military, worries many U.S. officials who think that it has the potential to turn into another Phoenix Program.
"Hersh called the mission a 'policy victory' for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who, according to Knight Ridder military correspondent Joseph Galloway, wants to minimize the military's post-Vietnam dependence on the National Guard and Reserve, 'so it's easier to go to war.'" 
Julian Borger wrote in the December 9, 2003, Guardian Unlimited (UK) article "Israel trains US assassination squads in Iraq" that:
- "'This is basically an assassination programme. That is what is being conceptualised here. This is a hunter-killer team,' said a former senior US intelligence official, who added that he feared the new tactics and enhanced cooperation with Israel would only inflame a volatile situation in the Middle East. ... 'It is bonkers, insane. Here we are - we're already being compared to Ariel Sharon in the Arab world, and we've just confirmed it by bringing in the Israelis and setting up assassination teams.'"
- "The new counter-insurgency unit made up of elite troops being put together in the Pentagon is called Task Force 121 ... One of the planners behind the offensive is a highly controversial figure, whose role is likely to inflame Muslim opinion ..." Lieutenant General William G. Boykin ('Jerry').
On November 18, 2003, Global Security posted "US Forces Order of Battle":
- "According to a report in the New York Times on November 7, 2003, Task Force 20 has been disbanded in July and elements within it have been merged with remaining elements of Task Force 5 to form Task Force 121. The unit is comprised of Army, Navy, and Air Force Special Operations Forces and is tasked with tracking down and capturing/killing Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden and Mullah Muhammad Omar and other important terrorist leaders."
- "While details of the force remain highly classified and the officials questioned by the New York Times declined to discuss the rules under which it operates, they did say it had shown results by getting close to Saddam - they gave no further details. They said the force is made up of Special Operations forces from the Army, Navy and Air Force and is supplemented by a large conventional force, which can be called in to secure a perimeter, create a diversion or supply greater firepower than Task Force 121 is capable of.
- "The covert force, the sources said, came into being after commanders realised they needed to streamline operations and that the hunt for al-Qaeda, Taliban and ex-Iraqi regime members should not be restricted by international borders.
- "The sources, however, did not disclose whether the covert force requires the permission of a foreign government to operate in its territory.
- "The force was also created as an antidote to concerns that the Iraq war had detracted the US military's attention from capturing bin Laden and his followers as well as Taliban leaders such as Mullah Muhammad Omar." --November 8, 2003
James Dunnigan wrote in the November 7, 2003, article "Playing Chess in the Dark With Task Force 121" at StrategyPage.com:
- "The recent establishment of Task Force 121 is another attempt to run down Saddam Hussein and his key aides. Task Force 121, like the earlier Task Force 5 (in Afghanistan) and Task Force 20 (in Iraq), are temporary operations organized by the U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command). The cutting edge troops are Special Forces, Delta Force and SEALs. Support is provided by SOCOMs own fleet of specialized aircraft, plus intelligence and other personnel. Perhaps the most potent aspect of operations like Task Force 121 is their ability to work closely with the CIA, FBI, DIA and other intelligence agencies. The CIA, in particular, has long been eager to work with SOCOM troops. This goes back to the 1950s, when Special Forces troops, many of whom had worked, during World War II, with people now in the CIA, joined forces in foreign areas where the CIA needed some para-military specialists. This cooperation has continued, and sometimes SOCOM troops will enter a country in civilian clothes (usually with the local government's permission, but not always) to cooperate with the CIA on some joint operation.
- "The CIA, and other intelligence agencies, trust the SOCOM 'operators' because these men (and some women) are very well trained and extremely professional. In effect, the CIA considers many of the SOCOM people as peers, and is willing to work together on sensitive missions (where mistakes could have very damaging political and diplomatic repercussions.) Such operations have been going on in the Horn of Africa for over a year, with Somalia being visited regularly (and unofficially) by SOCOM and CIA agents.
- "Operations like this have been going on for years. Most of them you never hear about, and SOCOM (and the CIA) prefer to keep it that way. In these situations, secrecy can be a matter of life and death. Moreover, if the media get wind of some of these reconnaissance, assassination or 'snatch' (grabbing one or more people) operations, SOCOM can get hurt in the subsequent firestorm of unwanted publicity. At worst, Congress can decide to cut SOCOMs budget, or pile on more restrictions about what SOCOM can, or cannot, do in carrying out the president's orders.
- "A good example of the dangerous political territory SOCOM operates in will probably pop up as Task Force 121 mines the growing pile of intelligence being collected in Iraq. No one will say so, but an increasing amount of useful, or just interesting, information is coming from members of Saddam's defunct intelligence and security organizations. Many of these Iraqis have very dirty hands, but they were also the only people who knew the secrets of Saddams government. And in many Sunni Arab parts of Iraq, Saddam's supporters still operate freely.
- "When evidence of intelligence collecting among Saddam's thugs becomes better known, you will find SOCOM's Arab speaking operators in the middle of it. While there's no better way to run down Saddam, many will criticize Task Force 121 for 'making deals with the Devil.' Cash, Green Cards, threats, or whatever it takes will eventually get enough of the Devils to talk to expose Saddam's protective network and nail the man himself.
- "Task Force 121 is trained and equipped to move quickly enough to take advantage of information on where Saddam is, and catch him. It's been known for years that Saddam was always on the move. This mobility was his primary security tool, and he set up networks of supporters and safe houses to make it work. Many of those networks survive, fueled by cash, terror or loyalty to tribe and family. Saddam made a lot of people rich while he was in power, and much of that wealth is threatened now that Saddam is no longer running the country. At lot of what's going on in Iraq has to do with power and money. Task Force 121 knows how to deal with people obsessed with power and money. But it's not an overnight operation. It's a war of inches, sort of like playing high speed chess in the dark. You find out where the enemy is, what he's got and go for the throat when the opportunity appears. If you know what you're doing, and keep at it long enough, you'll eventually achieve a checkmate."
On November 6, 2003, the New York Times reported that:
- "The top American military commander for the Middle East has created a covert commando force to hunt Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden and key terrorists throughout the region, according to Pentagon and military officials.
- "The new Special Operations organization is designed to act with greater speed on intelligence tips about 'high-value targets' and not be contained within the borders where American conventional forces are operating in Iraq and Afghanistan.
- "Gen. John P. Abizaid, who commands all American forces in the strategic crescent from the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, decided over the summer to disband two Special Operations missions, Task Force 5 in Afghanistan and Task Force 20 in Iraq, officials said.
- "Military officers say a broader, regional mission was given to the new force, which has become one of the Pentagon's most highly classified and closely watched operations.
- "Much about the force, which is commanded by an Air Force brigadier general, remains classified, and Pentagon officials declined to discuss the rules under which the new force operates throughout the region or whether its would require the permission of a foreign government to operate in its territory.
- "Military officers say that focusing the intelligence, and the Special Operations firepower, within one organization, called Task Force 121, streamlines the effort to use information on these targets and mount an attack."
Related SourceWatch Resources
- cooked intelligence
- covert operation
- Defense Intelligence Agency
- Defense Policy Board
- Defense Science Board
- Intelligence Support Activity
- Iraq Coalition Casualty Statistics
- Joint Special Operations Command
- National Security Agency
- Operation Enduring Freedom
- Operation Iraqi Freedom
- Operation Iraqi Freedom II
- Operation Iraqi Freedom: Beginnings of a Quagmire
- Operations Coordinating Board
- Patriot Act I/Patriot Act II
- Pax Americana, Africa (re Horn of Africa)
- Post-war Iraq
- preemptive war
- President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board
- President's Intelligence Oversight Board
- Proactive Preemptive Operations Group
- Special Operations Command
- Special Activities Division
- U.S. Central Command
- Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
- war on terrorism
- Thom Shanker and Eric Schmidt, "Secret unit hunts Saddam, bin Laden," New York Times/Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), November 7, 2003.
- David Rennie, "Elite death squad hunts bin Laden," The Telegraph (UK), November 8, 2003.
- "US forms covert force to hunt Saddam, Osama," Dawn.com (India), November 8, 2003.
- "Israel Training Crack U.S. Unit," MediaLine, December 9, 2003.
- "New U.S. Effort Steps Up Hunt for bin Laden," Sunday New York Times, February 29, 2004.