On the evening of December 13, 2003, in the small Iraqi town of ad-Dawr outside of Tikrit, elements of Task Force 121, and the US Army’s 4th Infantry Division captured former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Hussein hid in a spider hole and was found by a Delta Force operator.
The operation was named after the 1984 film “Red Dawn” starring Patrick Swayze. Not so coincidentally, the targets where the task force searched for Hussein were codenamed “Wolverine 1, and Wolverine 2.
Task Force 121 was a United States Department of Defense special operations task force. TF121 was a multi-service force from Joint Special Operations Command, made up of operators from the U.S. Army’s Delta Force, 75th Ranger Regiment, and 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team Six ,the CIA’s Special Activities Division, U.S. Air Force Combat Controllers, Pararescuemen, Tactical Air Control Party operators, and Special Operations Weather Technicians, the Aviation Tactics Evaluation Group (AvTEG), and the Joint Communications Unit. Two Troops from the U.S. Army 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment provided armor support.
Locating Hussein Using HUMINT: Hussein disappeared from public view soon after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The American military labeled him “High-Value Target Number One” (HVT1) and began one of the largest manhunts in history.
Teams of intelligence assets began trying to locate Hussein’s location by interrogating every person of interest they came across. Finally, some details began to emerge.
Between July and December 2003, JSOC’s Task Force 121 carried out twelve unsuccessful raids to find Saddam Hussein, together with 600 other operations against targets, including 300 interrogations.
On December 1, 2003, a former driver divulged the name Muhammed Ibrahim Omar al-Musslit, he was Saddam’s right-hand man, known to TF 121 as “the fat man.” Over the next two weeks, nearly 40 members of his family were interrogated to ascertain his location. On December 12, a raid on a house in Baghdad that was being used as an insurgent headquarters captured Ibrahim. The Army interrogator questioning Ibrahim made a deal with him that if he divulged the location of Hussein, the 40 members of his family would be released. Ibrahim then revealed where Saddam may be found. Not only did he give the information where he’d be found, he offered to personally lead the Delta Force teams to the location. And ironically enough it was a location that had already been searched.
This intelligence and other information gleaned from detained former members of the Ba’ath Party, supported by signals intelligence from the ISA, finally pinpointed the location that they believed Hussein was hiding at. In a remote farm compound south of Tikrit outside of the small town of ad-Dawr.
Operation Red Dawn was launched after identifying two likely locations of Saddam’s whereabouts codenamed Wolverine 1 and Wolverine 2, near the town of ad-Dawr. C squadron Delta Force, ISA operators under Task Force 121 and the First Brigade Combat Team of the 4th ID, conducted the operation. The location codenames of “Wolverine 1” and “Wolverine 2” were also a reference to the American insurgent group in the Swayze film, the Wolverines. The Forces involved in the operation consisted of approximately 600 soldiers including cavalry, artillery, aviation, engineer and special operations forces.
The elements of the 4th ID troops under the command of Colonel James Hickey secured the target area with a double cordon to block all possible escape routes out of the target area and to prevent any insurgents from trying to enter to come to the target’s aid.
The forces cleared both objectives but found nothing and believed it to be another dry hole. Then, as the operators called the helicopters in for extraction, one operator kicked a piece of flooring to one side, exposing a spider hole; he prepared to throw a frag grenade into it – in case it led to an insurgent tunnel system when suddenly a large shaggy man appeared. The Delta operator struck him with the stock of his M4 Carbine and disarmed him of a Glock 18C. The bearded man raised his hands and said, “I am Saddam Hussein. I am the President of Iraq, and I am willing to negotiate.” The Delta operator dropped the cover on the hole and said, “President Bush sends his regards.”
Hussein’s photo went viral with him on the ground held down by an Iraqi interpreter who was working for the Americans.
Hussein was quickly exfiltrated by an MH-6 Little Bird from the 160th SOAR and was taken into custody at Baghdad International Airport. Along with the Glock, an AK-47 and $750,000 in US $100 banknotes were recovered from the spider hole. There was also an orange and white taxi parked nearby.
Two other individuals were also detained. No shots were fired and there were no casualties during the operation. Saddam Hussein was afforded all of the rights as an enemy combatant in the Geneva Conventions.
International Reaction: He was photographed and filmed having a physical examination by US forces which was a source of some controversy as in some circles, especially the Vatican, the US was lambasted for “treating him like a cow.” The US government countered that it was to show that he was being properly cared for and that the Iraqi people had nothing to fear from him again.
He was kept in a high-security prison by US MPs which was a former palace of his. Although the US soldiers were under orders not to interact with him, over a period of months, he began to chat with them, his grasp of English, far better than what was initially believed. His conversations were strictly small talk to pass the time. He asked one darker skinned soldier what his heritage was, when the soldier replied, “Native American”, Hussein put his fingers of one hand behind his head imitating feathers and with the other, covering his mouth, he imitated an Indian war cry. Both men laughed.
The soldiers, well aware of what he had done as the absolute ruler of Iraq, had a hard time equating that man with the old man, almost grandfather-like who took great delight in smoking a Cuban cigar and carving prayers for his children in candles that one soldier had given him.
Reactions around the world were pretty split as one would assume. The allies of the US and coalition forces were delighted, others less so.
He was put on trial by a special Iraqi tribunal for crimes against humanity, specifically the murder of 148 Shi’ites in the town of Dujail in 1982 as retribution for a failed assassination attempt. He was convicted and sentenced to death.
He was executed by hanging on December 30, 2006, by Iraqi government officials.
Photos: US Army