Six U.S. soldiers killed in offensive
FORWARD OPERATING BASE NORMANDY, Iraq – A house booby-trapped with explosives killed six American soldiers on Wednesday during an offensive against Sunni insurgents in Diyala province, making it the deadliest day for U.S. troops in Iraq since November.
The blast, which also killed an Iraqi translator and injured four U.S. soldiers, took place on the second day of an unusually large campaign in Diyala against the insurgent group al-Qaida in Iraq. The explosion came one day after three American troops were shot to death in the neighboring northern province of Salahuddin.
The U.S. military is struggling to exert control over northern Iraq, where Sunni insurgents have fled over the past year after being driven out of Baghdad and western Anbar province. In addition to this offensive, commanders here are hoping to recruit local Sunnis into U.S.-backed volunteer forces that have successfully countered al-Qaida in Iraq in other parts of the country.
U.S. commanders expected the fight in Diyala, part of a larger nationwide campaign against al-Qaida in Iraq sanctuaries, to be particularly fierce. But most of the 200 fighters they expected to find here appear to have either escaped or successfully blended in with the local population.
Lt. Col. Rod Coffey, the commander of the squadron leading the charge into the insurgent sanctuary, known as the Bread Basket, estimated that the fighters would make their last stand in the town of Himbuz. When U.S. soldiers entered the town Wednesday afternoon, though, it appeared to have been emptied of insurgents.
At a news conference in Baghdad, the top U.S. military commander in northern Iraq, Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, acknowledged that the insurgents had not put up “the major defense that we initially thought.”
“We have some areas that we’re still very interested in where we think the enemy has withdrawn to,” he added, “and we’re continuing to pursue.”
The attack on U.S. troops took place west of Himbuz around noon. According to initial reports received by commanders on the ground, the house had been searched by American forces about 10 days prior and cleared of weapons. Before the recent offensive, insurgents were seen returning to the house at night and doing construction work.
The home, which had a “for sale” sign on it, was apparently ringed with explosives, some of which were contained in drums, according to the initial reports. The blast was so forceful that it caused most of the home to collapse. Some of the soldiers were buried in the rubble and had to be pulled out.