Friday, May 18, 2007


U.S. military says suspects have been detained

(LA Times) - The military said Wednesday that it had detained people believed to be "directly linked" to a weekend assault in which attackers ambushed two Humvees, killing four U.S. soldiers and their Iraqi interpreter, and leaving three others missing and presumed captured. The commander of the region where the attack occurred, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, offered details Wednesday of the ambush that portrayed the attackers as coordinated, swift and brutally effective.
Lynch said the eight troops in two Humvees were attacked after they had set up a position, guarded by rolls of razor wire, near a crater caused by previous bombings. The blast site, on a road about 12 miles west of Mahmoudiya, had become a favorite spot for insurgents to plant bombs. Additional soldiers were at a patrol base about 1,500 feet to the north, Lynch said. Evidence indicated that the attackers used grenades and other hand-held explosives, and converged from several directions, he said. Drag marks leading to tire tracks showed that the missing men were pulled from the area to vehicles about 45 feet away.
The military is trying to determine whether the two Humvees were sufficient to guarantee the troops' protection and whether the patrol had taken necessary precautions. Those precautions would include not being positioned at a spot previously used by U.S. troops, Lynch said.
Lt. Col. Randy A. Martin, a military spokesman, said 679 people were being held for questioning but did not disclose how many of them were suspected of having direct links to the attack. The Islamic State of Iraq, an insurgent coalition loyal to Al Qaeda, has claimed it is holding the soldiers, but has not provided proof. Terrorism experts have said the group may be attempting to stretch out the agony of its adversary.
"Like all the best terrorists … they seek to maximize the most effect of an act of violence," said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University. "It's not just putting the knife in, but twisting it slowly." Psychological warfare is a crucial tactic to insurgents in Iraq, where the battle is aimed at undermining the U.S. occupation and heightening tensions between Iraqi civilians and American troops, said James Phillips, a Middle East analyst at the Heritage Foundation.
Phillips said Al Qaeda groups knew that an ambush leading to the capture of soldiers could attract more attention than merely killing troops in a bombing. "It is possible that all of the people were killed and that they took some of the bodies so they could use them as a psychological counter," he said. "From their point of view, it's more useful to get their message across that they are still a force."
The four soldiers killed in the attack were from the 10th Mountain Division in Ft. Drum, N.Y. Their bodies arrived Tuesday at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. At a news conference on the base Wednesday, spokesman Lt. Col. Paul Fitzpatrick said searchers were operating under the assumption the missing are alive, "and are either under the control of extremists or, possibly, may be attempting to evade. Either way, our premise is that we assume they are alive unless proven otherwise."

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