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Attacks on U.S. Troops in Iraq Grow in Lethality, Complexity
Other units pushed forward to the copter crash, recovering the bodies of the pilots and killing three insurgents. But back at the Bradley bomb site, where soldiers were clearing the wreckage, a second bomb exploded, killing another U.S. soldier.
In all, eight U.S. troops died and three were wounded in the Memorial Day incident, which contributed to May's toll.
Simmons said helicopter downings such as the one in Diyala reflect a "thinking and adaptive enemy" that is refining its skills. "There is a greater degree of training," he said. Moreover, he said that as in past cases, insurgents may have placed the bombs that killed the ground troops deliberately along routes leading to the copter, but said military investigators have not confirmed that.
In a complex attack in Babil on May 12, a small, two-Humvee U.S. patrol that was watching an area where insurgents often buried roadside bombs came under insurgent observation. Insurgents got through a perimeter of concertina wire, attacked the patrol with grenades, hustled captured soldiers into a getaway car, then used bombs pre-positioned on both sides of the approaching road to delay for about an hour other U.S. forces coming to the patrol's rescue. Four soldiers were killed in the assault, the body of another was found later, and two remain missing.
U.S. commanders have long warned that more casualties would probably result from the increase of about 25,800 U.S. troops ordered by President Bush in January. The increase has placed the troops in the Baghdad region and the Sunni stronghold of Anbar province. These forces have been stationed since February at small patrol bases in Baghdad neighborhoods under a counterinsurgency strategy intended to pacify the capital.
The 2004 spikes in American deaths resulted from major U.S. ground offensives, such as the November 2004 campaign to retake the Sunni stronghold of Fallujah. Today, the losses are occurring as large numbers of U.S. troops disperse into Baghdad and other areas in an effort to protect Iraqis.
Commanders credit U.S. military operations with sharply lowering civilian deaths in Baghdad. The numbers of civilians killed and wounded as well as sectarian murders have all fallen roughly 50 percent in Baghdad in the 90 days ending in mid-May, compared with the previous three months, Simmons said, despite what some military officials described as a slight upturn in civilian deaths in May.
U.S. patrols and raids have also uncovered nearly 2,500 weapons caches and killed or captured more than 20,000 insurgents, militia members and other fighters nationwide since January. Among the enemy killed or captured are more than 1,700 individual targets considered "high value," in what military officials and analysts say is an effort to eliminate leaders of enemy cells in hopes they cannot quickly be replaced.
"Maybe this is the bloody period when we are doing the heavy fighting to get at the bad actors so we can have a more peaceful future," said Michael O'Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
But after lying low to a degree and watching U.S. tactics, fighters are now responding and retaliating. "In February, all sides -- including al-Qaeda in Iraq, Jaish al-Mahdi -- stepped back to take the measure of the surge, and by late April and May, they stepped forward again and are aggressively testing the resolve of U.S. forces," said Toby Dodge, an Iraq expert at Queen Mary College University of London, using the Arabic name of the Shiite Mahdi Army.
Military officials and analysts say the factors contributing to the increased deaths will likely not ease soon. "We are looking at a very nasty summer," Dodge said.
Anderson reported from Baghdad.