5 U.S. Troops Die in Iraq as Month's Toll Hits 70

By Nancy Trejos
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 23, 2006

BAGHDAD, Dec. 22 -- Five more American service members have been killed in Iraq, the U.S. military reported Friday, in what is shaping up to be one of the deadliest months for U.S. forces this year.

Four of those deaths occurred Thursday in western Iraq's Anbar province, where Sunni insurgents are aggressively fighting U.S. troops. The fatalities included three Marines and a sailor assigned to Regimental Combat Team 7, the military said.

On Friday, one soldier died and another was wounded when they came under fire during a patrol west of the capital, according to the military.

Newly appointed Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates on Friday returned to the United States for consultations with President Bush. Gates will offer findings from three days of meetings with U.S. commanders and Iraqi leaders about possible shifts in U.S. war strategy.

Before leaving, Gates told reporters at Camp Victory in Baghdad that naval forces in the Persian Gulf have increased, the Associated Press reported. Denying that this was a direct reaction to Iran's refusal to rein in its nuclear program, he called it a signal to all Gulf countries that the United States will maintain an enduring presence in the region.

As of Thursday, 70 service members had been killed this month, said Lt. Col. Christopher C. Garver, a U.S. military spokesman. Sixty were killed in action, and 10 died from noncombat causes such as accidents and illnesses, he said.

According to iCasualties.org, a Web site that tracks military casualties, the deadliest month this year has been October, with 110 deaths, including four non-Americans.

"We are in a tough fight, and we continue to conduct aggressive operations in support of the people of Iraq," Garver said.

U.S.-led forces have stepped up efforts to quell sectarian violence in Baghdad while continuing to fight insurgents in Anbar.

During multiple raids throughout the region Friday morning, coalition forces killed one suspected insurgent and detained 25 believed to be responsible for car bombings and other attacks against civilians and troops, the military said. They also captured an al-Qaeda financier, the military said.

U.S. forces are training Iraqi forces to take over security. Part of that training involves conducting joint operations to confiscate weapons caches and arrest suspected insurgents.

On Thursday, forces with the Iraqi army's 4th Division and U.S.-led coalition advisers captured a suspected leader of an insurgent cell and detained two others in Taji, north of Baghdad. The suspected cell leader, whose name was not released, planned car and roadside bombings against the convoys of Iraqi and coalition forces and helped set up illegal checkpoints, the military said.

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