Tuesday, April 29, 2008

US War Bulletin: Military Admits 44 Deaths in April; Clashes Intensify in Baghdad; Afghan Resistance Spreads Throughout Country

Dozens dead after Baghdad clashes

Residents of Sadr City have faced a series of clashes between Shia fighters and US and Iraqi forces

At least 24 people have been killed and four US soldiers wounded in clashes between US soldiers and fighters in the Sadr City district of Baghdad, according to the US military.

Fighting broke out at about 9.30am (0630 GMT) on Tuesday when a US patrol came under fire, Lieutenant-Colonel Steven Stover said.

A US military vehicle, which was evacuating an injured US soldier, was also hit by two roadside bombs, small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades, he said.

Stover said three other US soldiers were subsequently injured, and that US soldiers "killed 24 enemy forces in a protracted gun battle".

'Severe damage'

A resident of Sadr City said "the fighting was intense" and that "four houses [were] heavily damaged".

The Sadr city district of the capital is controlled by the al-Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr, a Shia religious leader.

Earlier on Tuesday, Iraqi officials said that nine people were killed and another 25 were wounded in violence in Sadr City.

It was not immediately clear whether the two firefights were the same.

Iraqi and US forces have been fighting against Shia armed group since March 25 in Sadr City, as well as the southern city of Basra.

Hundreds of Shia fighters and civilians have been killed in the fighting.

At least 18 US soldiers have also been killed in Baghdad since the government led crackdown against Shia fighters was launched.

Source: Agencies

Attacks in Iraq kill 4 American soldiers

April 29, 2008

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Bombardments by suspected militants killed four U.S. soldiers Monday as troops tried to push Shi'ite fighters farther from the U.S.-protected Green Zone and out of range of their rockets and mortars.

At least 44 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq in April, making it the deadliest month for U.S. forces since September.

The U.S. military said three soldiers were killed in eastern Baghdad by indirect fire, a reference to mortars or rockets. The statement did not give an exact location for the attack, but the Shi'ite stronghold of Sadr City has been the scene of intense fighting recently.

A fourth U.S. soldier was killed by a shell in western Baghdad, the military said.

A showdown between the Iraqi government and the Mahdi Army-led by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr -- increasingly has drawn U.S. forces into the battles. U.S. commanders are particularly focused on trying to curb a rise in mortar and rocket attacks on the Green Zone.

At least three more salvos hit the Green Zone in central Baghdad, but there were no reports of injuries. In Sadr City -- the stronghold of the Mahdi Army militia -- U.S. soldiers battled deeper into the district a day after fierce clashes that killed at least 38 suspected militants, the military said.

Attacked: Militants tried to assassinate President Hamid Karzai in Kabul Sunday

Afghanistan's insurgency spreading north

Militant attacks are increasing outside the Taliban's southern stronghold, such as Sunday's on President Hamid Karzai.

By Anand Gopal
Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
From the April 29, 2008 edition

Correspondent Anand Gopal talks about one member of the Taliban attending Kabul University

Kabul, Afghanistan - The attempted assassination of President Hamid Karzai Sunday came as the latest sign of a trend worrying Western officials: that the insurgency is spreading from the Taliban stronghold of the south to the central and northern regions of the country.

The militant attack, the biggest in Kabul since mid-March, came during a public ceremony. Despite a massive security presence, militants managed to fire bullets and rockets at the president, killing two nearby lawmakers and a boy.

The insurgency in Afghanistan has not been "contained," Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell testified before a Senate subcommittee in February. "It's been sustained in the south, it's grown a bit in the east, and what we've seen are elements of it spread to the west and the north."

A recent study by Sami Kovanen, an analyst with the security firm Vigilant Strategic Services of Afghanistan, echoed this assessment. He reported 465 insurgent attacks in areas outside the restive southern regions during the first three months of 2008, a 35 percent increase compared with the same period last year. In the central region around Kabul there have been 80 insurgent attacks from January through March of this year, a 70 percent jump compared to the first three months of last year.

The numbers are part of a nationwide trend of rising violence. In the southern and southeastern provinces, including the insurgent hotbeds of Kandahar and Helmand, guerrilla attacks spiked by 40 percent, according to Mr. Kovanen's research.

Kabul itself has been largely free from the violence, but as Sunday's attack shows, there are signs that the Taliban's presence is growing here, too. On the sprawling, serene campus of Kabul University, where the nation sends many of its best and brightest, the Taliban has reached an unprecedented level of influence, students say.

Young men gather in campus dorm rooms and watch slickly produced DVDs of the latest insurgent attacks. One video shows Taliban fighters firing rocket launchers and shrieking, "God is the greatest!" as orange fireballs reach their targets, presumably Coalition forces, in the distance. The attacks are set to religious music, backed by a staccato drumbeat meant to impassion and inspire viewers.

"Many of us have contact with Taliban leadership," says one student and Taliban member, who asked to be called Naqibullah. "I talk to commanders based in the south maybe once a week on the phone." Naqibullah and others like him disseminate Taliban propaganda throughout the university, hoping especially to reach students from various parts of the country.

Naqibullah suggests that places like Kabul University might be a fertile recruiting ground for operations in the capital and in northern areas of the country. "There are many students waiting to launch suicide attacks," he says. "One student launched a suicide attack in Bagram," an American base north of the capital.

"I, too, would like to become a suicide bomber," Naqibullah continues. "But educated Taliban like me are needed to teach the uneducated ones." Instead, the young man is training to become a doctor so he can eventually treat the war wounds of Taliban fighters.

Many Afghans die in suicide blast

A suicide bombing in eastern Afghanistan has killed 15 Afghans and wounded 25 more, the Nato-led military force has said.

The Taliban said it carried out Tuesday's attack near the district centre of Khogyani in the eastern province of Nangarhar.

Afghan and foreign troops also called in airstrikes as they battled armed groups in a series of clashes that left at least 23 fighters dead and 20 others wounded, officials said on Tuesday.

The clashes happened in eastern and southern Afghanistan, where Taliban and other groups are waging an insurgency against government and foreign forces.

The joint forces clashed with fighters in the Qarabagh district of Ghazni province on Monday, leaving six Taliban dead and eight others wounded, Zia Wali, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said.

There were no casualties among the Afghan and foreign forces, Wali said.

In southwestern Nimroz province, US-led coalition and Afghan troops killed several fighters on Monday during a clash in Khash Rod district, a coalition statement said on Tuesday.

The troops were targeting a fighter involved in the movement of weapons and fighters in the area, it said. They detained 14 other suspected fighters during the raid.

In another incident, US and Afghan troops fought off coordinated insurgent attacks in eastern Afghanistan and called in airstrikes that left a dozen fighters dead and a dozen more wounded, the US military said.

New operation

Meanwhile, US marines have pushed into Afghanistan's southern province of Helmand in a major new operation to flush out Taliban fighters.

The Nato-led force described the operation on Tuesday as the most significant in months in the troubled area, which is littered with poppy fields and classified as Taliban territory.

Several hundred marines, many of them veterans of the conflict in Iraq, pushed into the town of Garmser in predawn light.

US commanders say Taliban fighters have been expecting an assault and have been setting up improvised explosive devices in response.

The operation has been called Azada Wosa, which means Be Free in the Pashtu language of southern and eastern Afghanistan.

The marines involved in the new push are based in the neighbouring province of Kandahar.

Iraq veterans

The assault is the first major task undertaken by the 2,300 soldiers in the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which arrived last month from Camp Lejuene, North Carolina, for a seven-month deployment.

Many of the men in the unit served in 2006 and 2007 in Ramadi, the capital of the Anbar province in western Iraq. The vast region was once the stronghold of al-Qaeda in Iraq.

The marines' mission is the first carried out by US forces this far south in Helmand in years. British troops, who are responsible for Helmand, have faced fierce battles on the north edge of the province.

The largely desert province of Helmand shares a long and porous border with Pakistan, across which Taliban reinforcements are said to cross.

Source: Agencies

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