Troops' ambush detailed

U.S. says it has detained people `directly linked' to assault

May 17, 2007|By Tina Susman and Julian E. Barnes | Tina Susman and Julian E. Barnes,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Baghdad -- The military said yesterday 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 translator, and leaving three others missing and presumed captured.

Yesterday, the commander of the region where the attack occurred, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, offered details 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 bombs. The blast site, on a road about 12 miles west of Mahmoudiya, had become a favorite spot for insurgents to plant new bombs.

There were additional soldiers at a patrol base about 1,500 feet to the north, Lynch said.

Evidence indicated that the attackers used hand grenades and other hand-held explosives, and converged from several directions, he said.

Drag marks leading to tire tracks on the ground showed that the missing men were pulled from the area of the Humvees to vehicles about 45 feet away.

Among the questions the military was looking to answer was whether 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, did not disclose the number of detainees suspected of having links to the attack, saying they were among 679 people being held for questioning.

The Islamic State of Iraq, an insurgent coalition loyal to al-Qaida, 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."

The four soldiers killed in the attack were from the 10th Mountain Division in Fort Drum, N.Y. Their bodies arrived Tuesday at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

Also yesterday, Britain's army commander said that Prince Harry, the third in line to the British throne, will not be deployed in Iraq because of "a number of specific threats" to his safety.

"These threats expose not only him, but also those around him, to a degree of risk that I now deem unacceptable," said the army's chief of staff, Gen. Richard Dannatt, in a statement released by military authorities.

The decision comes after months of mixed signals and reviews on the part of the army, which originally had planned to post Harry, the younger son of Prince Charles, as head of a 12-member tank group within his Blues and Royals Regiment, which is deploying to Iraq this spring.

Several threats from Iraqi insurgents have emerged, including a vow to cut the ears off the "young, handsome, spoilt prince," amid reports that the prince's photo had been circulating among armed Iraqi groups.

In Iraq, scores of new deaths were reported, including at least 40 people killed by a bomb that exploded Tuesday in a market in a remote town north of the capital, and two who died after a highly coordinated mortar barrage on the Green Zone in central Baghdad. Ten people were injured in the second day of mortar attacks inside the walled enclave, which is home to the U.S. Embassy, Iraqi parliament, and many government installations and residences.

In Mosul, five car bombs and 10 roadside bombs exploded yesterday evening, and mortars rained down on a prison in the city center, the provincial police chief reported.

Another police official said a total of 19 people had been killed.

Mosul, 225 miles north of Baghdad, lies in an area near the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region that has seen increased violence as Kurds and Sunni Arabs vie for dominance.

Mortar rounds struck the southern city of Nasiriya, where clashes erupted between rival Shiite Muslim militia members.

Tina Susman and Julian E. Barnes write for the Los Angeles Times.

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