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Hussein hunt combines high-, low-tech skills

By Associated Press
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 31, 2003

TIKRIT, Iraq - The Americans are hunting Saddam Hussein using tattered documents, dusty tanks - and satellites and flying robots.

The U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division, dubbed the "digital division" because of the technology it uses, is combining the low-tech skills of traditional soldiering with high-tech gadgets in its hunt for the fugitive Iraqi dictator.

The cavernous hall of one of Hussein's palaces is illuminated by computer screens as soldiers work, listening to the latest television news updates on the hunt for the ousted dictator.

Overhead, satellites record movement along the Iraqi terrain, spy planes scour hiding spots with thermal scans and unmanned drones feed live video to division headquarters, said Lt. Col. Ted Martin, the division's operations officer.

He said the division is also using some new high-tech tricks. The radar in Apache attack helicopters, originally designed to target moving tanks, is being used to track cars and detect unusual traffic patterns.

"The systems, the people and the training we have here aren't designed to hunt one human being," Martin said. "But everything we have can be applied to tracking down this key leader."

When the Army receives a report of a suspicious meeting, it will call in the Air Force, deploy unmanned planes and send in helicopters, Martin said. If the lead looks promising, infantry troops backed by Bradley fighting vehicles can be dispatched.

"It would amaze these guys if they knew the effort that goes in before we kick a door down," Martin said.

The Army also has generated images of what Hussein could look like after three months on the run.

"Soldiers have been provided with examples of what he might look like," Martin said. "Maybe he looks exactly like he did. We explore every possibility."

The soldiers are using more traditional, low-tech search methods as well. On the ground, patrolling soldiers and interpreters collect tips from residents.

Since the deaths of Hussein's sons Uday and Qusay last week in a shootout with U.S. forces, there has been a surge in the amount of information being given to the 4th Infantry, whose territory spans from just north of Baghdad to just south of Mosul and then east to the Iranian border.

The area includes the "Sunni Triangle," where support for Hussein runs strongest.

The tips have led soldiers to weapons caches, guerrilla recruiters and senior Hussein allies, Martin said.

Documents found in each raid help mount the next one. Soldiers collect documents from raided houses to help piece together the inner workings of Hussein's realm and, hopefully, clues to his last remaining refuges.

Group photographs, cell phones, computer hard drives, government documents and anything bearing an official seal are taken for examination by intelligence officers. And any questions raised by the documents are taken to former members of the regime in custody. In the end, Martin said, it may well be happenstance when the U.S. Army catches up to Hussein.

"I don't think it's going to be a satellite that catches Saddam Hussein," he said. "I think it's going to be a soldier with a rifle."

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