Five Killed, Three Missing in Attack Near Baghdad
SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
Seven U.S. soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter came under fire while on patrol in the Sunni insurgent stronghold south of Baghdad today. The attack left five dead and three missing.
NPR's Anne Garrels joins us from Baghdad. Anne, thanks for being with us.
ANNE GARRELS: My pleasure.
SIMON: And describe the situation there as you know it.
GARRELS: Well, seven soldiers, as you say, and an Iraqi interpreter were on a patrol early, early this morning when units nearby heard explosions. They couldn't immediately get to them - for safety reasons. In the meantime, intelligence from an unpiloted drone confirmed two burning vehicles.
The quick reaction team did find five of the patrol dead, with three missing. It's not clear though who is dead and who is missing because the bodies were burned beyond immediate recognition. Troops are now searching for the three missing using drone planes, jets, checkpoints; soldiers are also asking local leaders for information.
Now these soldiers come from a new command set up in March to deal with the belt along the south of Baghdad and further to the south. It's an area about the size of West Virginia where both Sunni and Shiite extremists are operating. The new command has lost already 20 soldiers in less than two months because of violence there. It's not clear yet who and what caused today's attack - Sunnis or Shiites.
But the commanding general, Rick Lynch, has said both Sunnis and Shiites in his area are using more and more of the particularly deadly and sophisticated roadside bombs, which can penetrate armor. The U.S. says these - the technology for these or the roadside bombs themselves come from Iran. They're not easy to make. And General Lynch warned last week, making news, he warned of escalating American casualties as more American troops are on the ground and more are out on the ground, not sitting in their bases.
SIMON: Anne, are these the first U.S. soldiers reported as missing in action in this war?
GARRELS: No. But there haven't been many instances. I can think of, you know, two in the last year, maybe. A handful of soldiers were kidnapped in a brazen attack on a meeting in the governor's office in Najib about four months ago. And they subsequently turned up dead in the desert. Two American soldiers went missing about a year in the same area. There was a massive search and they, too, were found dead.
SIMON: And is violence growing outside of that area that's surrounding Baghdad as well?
GARRELS: Yes. As the number of American forces has increased in Baghdad itself and Anbar province to the west, radicals and the Sunni insurgency and the Shiite Muslim militias have moved into the east and the south, to areas where there have been fewer troops.
General Randy Mixon(ph) who's in charge of the area north of Baghdad was unusually frank in a briefing to the Pentagon on Friday saying, he does not have enough troops now to deal with the escalating violence and he was scathing about the Iraqi government's performance. This frankness, I have to say, is incredibly rare.
SIMON: NPR's Anne Garrels in Baghdad. Thank you.
GARRELS: Thank you.
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