Task Force 88 (anti-terrorist unit)

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Task Force 88 is an American special operations unit, of which little is publicly known. It was formed in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks with support from elements from United Kingdom Special Forces. It is described as a "hunter-killer team"[1] with its core made up of Delta Force, 75th Ranger Regiment Rangers, members of the USAF 24th Special Tactics Squadron, and Navy DEVGRU operators.[2] The unit was reported to be responsible for the cross border raid into Syria from Iraq in October 2008 that resulted in eight deaths including Abu Ghadiya,[3] along with several US operations in the Horn of Africa targeting al Qaeda.[4][5]

History as Task Force 145[edit]

Since the invasion of Iraq, the unit went through a number of changes of designation. Task Force 20 was amalgamated with Task Force 5 (formerly Task Force 11/Task Force Sword) in Afghanistan in July 2003, and became Task Force 21. It was then redesignated Task Force 121, and later as Task Force 626, Task Force 145, and Task Force 88.[6] Neville notes that he omitted the 'current' (c. 2008, time of writing) designation of the unit. However he did say that it was also known obliquely as Other Coalition Forces – Iraq (OCF-I), 'a wry reference to the CIA unit of the moniker OGA.'[7] By the time General Stanley McChrystal took command, the force was known as Task Force 714.[8]

It was a combined U.S. and British military special forces provisional grouping specifically charged with hunting down high-value al-Qaeda and Iraqi leadership including Osama bin Laden and, prior to his death on 7 June 2006, Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. It is believed that the Task Force played a role in the medium altitude strike mission that killed al-Zarqawi just outside Baqubah.[9] The Task Force was charged with disrupting al-Qaeda operations in Iraq and, to a lesser extent, Afghanistan.

The action arm of the task force was made up of operators from 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group ('DEVGRU'), British Special Air Service, British Special Boat Service and soldiers from the 75th Ranger Regiment and Paratroopers of 3rd Battalion 504th, 82nd Airborne Division. Members of the CIA's elite Special Activities Division paramilitary unit were also believed to be an important part of the group.[10] Support elements include the Army's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Night Stalkers), the Air Force’s 24th Special Tactics Squadron, and British paratroopers from the Special Forces Support Group.

The unit was operating up until at least January 2007; it is not clear whether it is still operational with the U.S. drawdown from Iraq. In January 2007 Task Force 88 established a subsidiary task force, Task Force 17 (US Army ODA/Special Forces), in addition to an existing task force for which it supported, Task Force 16 (US/UK Tier 1 SOF). Task Force 17 was established to 'counter Iranian influence.' Task Force 17 was to be made Initially Operationally Capable as of 'NLT 15 January 2007 and Full Operational Capability (FOC) will be in place NLT 15 February 2007.'[11]


The task force is known to operate very autonomously. In their only publicly known operation they reportedly conducted several raids without requiring approval from nearby conventional command structures and only requiring it from USSOCOM.[citation needed] The task force was also responsible for the tracking and eventual elimination (by F-16 launched ordinance) of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Over 18 months beginning in early 2007, the task force reportedly arrested 3,500 terrorists in Baghdad and killed several hundred others. Thus, al Qaeda bomb attacks went down from an average of 150 per month (killing monthly 3,000 people) to about two. During the campaign, six SAS troops were killed and 30 injured. Delta Force suffered an overall 20 percent casualty rate.[12]

During operations in Al-Anbar province, TF88 operatives entered the insurgent-controlled city of Haditha, several times finding Zarqawi's hideouts. Their raids found eggs still cooking, just missing the terrorist leader. Based on this current and actionable intelligence, they asked the commander of II MEF(FWD) to have to city of Haditha assaulted in order to flush Zarqawi out. The general chose the 3rd Battalion 1st Marines, experienced in heavy fighting from Operation Phantom Fury, to assault the city.

Originally, it was not clear what the reduced U.S. military role following the U.S.–Iraq Status of Forces Agreement and associated drawdown to purely advisory operations has had on the task force's operations. Currently, other temporarily formed Task Forces are compiled primarily of US and UK Special Operations units (and depending on the operational needs, usually involving other Coalition members' SOF units such as Australian SASR, Canadian CSOR/JTF2, etc.) and mostly, are put together for specific taskings, such as hunting ISIL leadership (such as unconfirmed reports of a reformation of "TF Black") or the hunt of Somalian Al-Shabaab alongside CJSOTF-Africa. There are numerous small Task Forces dedicated to counterterrorism tasks across the globe, but with the current cutbacks by the Dept of Defense and the Administration, the most needed Task Forces are stretched more thin than even before in the Global War on Terror.


(see Iraq War order of battle)

Organization as of October 2006[edit]

TF 145, or TF 88 as it may now be known, was commanded by a colonel (the commanding officer of the Army's Delta Force)[14] and is based at five locations across Iraq. Its task organization drew on every unit of the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) as well as on the CIA's Special Activities Division and British special operations forces.

The headquarters element, which included the majority of the task force's many aviation and intelligence assets, was based at Balad Air Base between Samarra and Baghdad; the four elements that it controlled, each commanded by a lieutenant colonel or equivalent, were spread across the country.

Task Force Center is probably co-located with TF 145's headquarters element at Balad, but it could also be based at Camp Liberty, since it is responsible for the Baghdad region. TF Center is based around a direct-action squadron; the three Delta Force squadrons and SEAL Team 6 appear to rotate through this position. It is also supported by a rotating company-sized element of the 75th Ranger Regiment and elements of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. TF Center has taken casualties in the Yusufiya area, where one of its helicopters was shot down in spring 2006.

Task Force West is structured similarly to TF Center in that it has a company-sized force protection element from the 75th Rangers and is based around a battalion-sized direct action unit that can at any given time be a Delta Force squadron or Naval Special Warfare Development Group (known also as SEAL Team 6). It seems that these units rotate every three to four months. TF West is responsible for operations in Anbar, where it is known to have been active at various times in Fallujah, Qaim, Husayba, and Ramadi; Delta Force lost nine operators during combat in Husaybah, Qaim and Ramadi[citation needed]. It is likely that TF West is based either at Camp Asad or Camp Taqaddum.

Task Force North is organized differently: it is based around a full battalion of the 75th Rangers (the position rotates among the three battalions), with a company-sized element from Delta Force acting in support. TF North was based at FOB Marez in Mosul.

Task Force Black/Knight[edit]

Based in the Baghdad area, TF Black (which was supported by Parachute Regiment members of the Special Forces Support Group)[15] is based around a squadron of the British army's 22 Special Air Service Regiment, with integrated units from the Special Boat Service, Special Reconnaissance Regiment, 18 (UKSF) Signal Regiment and Delta Force. In the early months of 2004, the SAS used their capabilities in reconnaissance and surveillance to watch suspects and develop/gather intelligence for the coalition intelligence services. The SAS operational process in Baghdad was known as find-fix-finish, working backwards with the 'finish' part being a raid to take down a suspect, 'fix' involved pinpointing a time and place which a target can be taken and 'find' would be finding the insurgent/terrorist. In this period they almost captured/killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi when they assaulted a house in Baghdad; after forcing entry they withdrew when they discovered a booby trap, they still managed to overwhelm the occupants of the building and captured intelligence revealed Zarqawi had left a short time before.[16]It has participated in operations in the Baghdad area when British or Canadian hostages are involved. Operation Marlborough in July 2005, when the SAS killed three insurgent would-be suicide bombers, was also carried out by this unit in the Iraqi capital.[17] Sergeant Jon Hollingsworth, killed in Basra in November 2006 ,he was decorated for his service in this unit. Following the Basra prison incident in September 2005, in which the name of the unit 'Task force Black' was leaked to the press; the unit was renamed 'Task force Knight'[18] In early 2006, Task Force Black was involved in the release of three hostages working for Christian Peacemaker Teams as part of Operation Lightwater. With the aim of finding the hostages, the operation involved raiding houses and arresting suspects almost every day and night until sufficient intelligence was gathered on the whereabouts of the hostages. The total number of building raids amounted to 50, 44 of them being by British special forces including a total detained 47 people.[19] In April 2006, B squadron SAS launched Operation Larchwood 4 the results of the gave the coalition intelligence on Zarqawi which led to his death.[20]

According to journalist Sean Rayment for the Telegraph, TF Black removed or killed 3,500 terrorists in Baghdad prior to 2008.[21] Rayment wrote that these killings "reduced bombings in Baghdad from about 150 a month to just two."[21] In October 2004, all SAS personnel in Iraq including Task Force Black were banned from handing over suspects to the US forces if the suspects were going to be taken to a US interrogation center, because of the bad reputation of the centers.[22] Another setback for the task force was during the Second Battle of Fallujah when the SAS was banned from going into the city alongside its American counterpart because of the pressure that the government was feeling from the unpopularity of the war. During the Spring and summer of 2007 the British SAS as part of Task Force Knight suffered several men seriously wounded as it extended its operations into Sadr City.[23] UKSF left Iraq in May 2009.[24] the Task Force Black/Knight provided the United Kingdom with one clear success of the nations controversial involvement in the Iraq War, in an interview with The Times newspaper in August 2008, General David Petraeus said the SAS "have helped immensely in the Baghdad area, in particular to take down the al-Qaeda car bomb networks and other al-Qaeda operations in Iraq's capital city". Lieutenant-General Rob Fry described the role of British special forces in defeating al-Qaeda as being of "an absolutely historic scale".[25] The SAS's campaign against the Shia Special Groups was successful however Iraq's population is made up of a Shia majority, whose insurgents were supported covertly by Iran and therefore the task force and JSOC could only contain the threat rather than destroy it. Many members of the Special Groups have since been released by the Iraqi government.[26]

Currently, rumors of a "reformation of a similar Task Force going by the cover name of TF Black" have emerged, although most former Special Mission Unit members and insiders believe that since the whole concept of a "Task Force is temporary, hence the term 'Task' Force...as in being tasked with a particular objective", this would be unlikely, regardless of the reports of mainstream media to the contrary. Most of the time, Task Forces such as the original TF Black, cannot technically "be reformed" to hunt ISIL when the creation of a more current and lesser known joint Task Force would make more sense to those inside the Joint Special Operations Command.[22]


  1. ^ "What's Behind the US Military Raid on Syria?". Time. 27 October 2008. 
  2. ^ Naylor, Sean (2006). Not a Good Day to Die: The Untold Story of Operation Anaconda. Berkeley: Berkley Books. ISBN 0-425-19609-7. 
  3. ^ Bill RoggioOctober 27, 2008 (2008-10-27). "US strike in Syria "decapitated" al Qaeda's facilitation network". The Long War Journal. Retrieved 2012-07-23. 
  4. ^ Gordon, Michael R.; Mazzetti, Mark (23 February 2007). "U.S. Used Base in Ethiopia to Hunt Al Qaeda". The New York Times. 
  5. ^ Schmitt, Eric; Mazzetti, Mark (10 November 2008). "Secret Order Lets U.S. Raid Al Qaeda". The New York Times. 
  6. ^ Leigh Neville, 'Special Operations Forces in Iraq,' Osprey Publishing Elite 170, Osprey, 2008, ISBN 978-1-84603-357-5, 32.
  7. ^ Neville, 2008, 32.
  8. ^ McChrystal, My Share of the Task, ISBN 978-1-59184-475-4, pp. 90, 93, 96-7, 111.
  9. ^ http://blogs.abcnews.com/theblotter/2006/06/victory_for_tas.html The Blotter: Brian Ross Reports, ABC News. 8 June 2006 9:12 am
  10. ^ Sean D. Naylor, SpecOps Unit nearly nabs Zarqawi, (from www.armytimes.com, 28 April 2006)
  11. ^ Gordon, Michael R.; Trainor, Bernard E. (2012). The Endgame: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Iraq, from George W. Bush to Barack Obama. New York: Pantheon Books. pp. 324, 727. ISBN 978-0-307-37722-7. 
  12. ^ Rayment, Sean, "SAS Kill Hundreds Of Terrorists In 'Secret War' Against Al-Qaeda In Iraq", Sunday Telegraph, 31 August 2008.
  13. ^ "SAS - Task Force Black". Eliteukforces.info. Retrieved 2012-07-23. 
  14. ^ a b Michael Smith, Secret War of the SAS, Sunday Times, 16 September 2007.
  15. ^ Thomas Harding, US Calls in Paras for Baghdad Secret War, Daily Telegraph, 24 April 2006
  16. ^ Urban, Mark, Task Force Black: The Explosive True Story of the Secret Special Forces War in Iraq , St. Martin's Griffin , 2012 ISBN 1250006961 ISBN 978-1250006967,p.49,p.71
  17. ^ Daily Telegraph, Revealed: SAS Mission to kill a Baghdad Suicide Squad, 19 November 2005, and http://www.eliteukforces.info/special-air-service/sas-operations/operation-marlborough/
  18. ^ Urban, Mark, Task Force Black: The Explosive True Story of the Secret Special Forces War in Iraq , St. Martin's Griffin , 2012 ISBN 1250006961 ISBN 978-1250006967,p.116
  19. ^ Urban, Mark, Task Force Black: The Explosive True Story of the Secret Special Forces War in Iraq , St. Martin's Griffin , 2012 ISBN 1250006961 ISBN 978-1250006967,p.122-p.123,p.128,p.130
  20. ^ Urban, Mark, Task Force Black: The Explosive True Story of the Secret Special Forces War in Iraq , St. Martin's Griffin , 2012 ISBN 1250006961 ISBN 978-1250006967,p.138-p.146
  21. ^ a b Rayment, S. (2008, 30 August). Sas kills hundreds of terrorists in 'secret war' against al-qaeda in iraq. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/onthefrontline/2652496/SAS-kill-hundreds-of-terrorists-in-secret-war-against-al-Qaeda-in-Iraq.html
  22. ^ a b Haynes, D. (2010). SAS was barred from dealing with US force. Lexisnexis. Retrieved (2010, 15 September) from http://www.lexisnexis.com/hottopics/lnacademic/
  23. ^ Urban, Mark, Task Force Black: The Explosive True Story of the Secret Special Forces War in Iraq , St. Martin's Griffin , 2012 ISBN 1250006961 ISBN 978-1250006967,p.232
  24. ^ Urban, Mark, Task Force Black: The Explosive True Story of the Secret Special Forces War in Iraq , St. Martin's Griffin , 2012 ISBN 1250006961 ISBN 978-1250006967,p.270
  25. ^ Urban, Mark, Task Force Black: The Explosive True Story of the Secret Special Forces War in Iraq , St. Martin's Griffin , 2012 ISBN 1250006961 ISBN 978-1250006967,p.274
  26. ^ Urban, Mark, Task Force Black: The Explosive True Story of the Secret Special Forces War in Iraq , St. Martin's Griffin , 2012 ISBN 1250006961 ISBN 978-1250006967,p.275

Further reading[edit]

  • Michael Smith, 'Killer Elite: The Inside Story of America's Most Secret Special Operations Team,' 2008
  • Mark Urban, 'Task Force Black,' 2010
  • Gordon, Michael R.; Trainor, Bernard E. (2012). The Endgame: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Iraq, from George W. Bush to Barack Obama. New York: Pantheon Books. pp. 620–621. ISBN 978-0-307-37722-7. 

External links[edit]