U.S. Bolstering Force in Deadly Diyala
Monday, April 16, 2007
BAQUBAH, Iraq, April 15 -- The first thing Spec. Edward Lyall heard was the thin, high pop of the AK-47.
From the gunner hatch of the Stryker combat vehicle, he saw the muzzle flashes from a shed on the roof of a brown brick building across a canal. With bullets hissing over his head, he fired his machine gun back at the house until a bolt popped out of the gun's handle and wedged into a crack in the floor.
"I need a weapon!" he screamed, his face red and his hands shaking.
The gunners in three other Strykers took up the barrage, until a thunderous bomb sent up a plume of dust and smoke around the convoy. After four minutes and nearly 2,000 rounds, the attack abruptly stopped and the American soldiers drove back to their base unharmed.
The back hatch opened and Lyall scooped up used shell casings.
"Welcome to Baqubah," he said.
Ambushes similar to the one that struck the Stryker patrol Friday have become routine in Baqubah, the capital of Diyala province and one of the most violent cities in Iraq. As thousands of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers descend on Baghdad, U.S. commanders say, insurgents are moving north into Diyala, a province smaller than Maryland where the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq has waged a brutal campaign of terror.
"The Baghdad security plan is killing American soldiers up here," one soldier put it.
Over the past five months, enemy tactics have turned squarely against U.S. and Iraqi troops. As sectarian killings and kidnappings have fallen by about 70 percent in Diyala, attacks on U.S. and Iraqi troops have increased by a corresponding amount, according to Col. David W. Sutherland, the top U.S. commander in the province. At least 46 soldiers from his 5,000-member 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Cavalry Division have been killed since they arrived in November.
The Stryker battalion reinforcements showed up March 13 and plunged into Baqubah, about 35 miles northeast of the capital. Their first day of reconnaissance turned into more than eight hours of urban combat against snipers, roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades.
"This is the most stressful environment we've been in, easily," said Capt. Ben Richards, a company commander with the Stryker unit, which fought in Tall Afar, Mosul, Anbar province and Baghdad before coming to Diyala.
As a sign of the province's strategic importance, almost a full brigade of between 2,000 and 3,000 additional soldiers is on the way to Diyala to interdict the volatile terrain between Baghdad and Baqubah, soldiers said.