U.S. Troops, Civilians to Become Less Protected on July 1

In the run-up to June 30, the deadline for U.S. combat troops to leave Iraqi cities, the nation has been rocked by deadly attacks. Video by AP
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, June 26, 2009

BAGHDAD, June 25 -- U.S. military officials fear that the closure of inner-city bases and restrictive guidelines that go into effect next week will leave American troops and civilians in Iraq more vulnerable.

Of particular concern is a new rule that bars U.S. troops from using mine-resistant armored vehicles in urban areas during the day, officials said.

Also worrisome, they said, is the recent closure of a small outpost in eastern Baghdad that is adjacent to a site militiamen have used to launch deadly rocket attacks on the Green Zone.

Thousands of U.S. combat troops will remain at a handful of bases in Baghdad and on the outskirts of other restive cities, such as Mosul and Kirkuk, in northern Iraq, past the June 30 deadline. But U.S. troops say their ability to respond quickly to thwart attacks could erode significantly because Iraqi officials will have unprecedented authority over their mobility and missions in urban areas.

"We won't be providing the same level of security for ourselves and Iraqis," said 2nd Lt. Jason Henke, a military police platoon leader who will remain at one of the few inner-city bases in Baghdad. "With only a small window of time that we are allowed to operate in, it's going to be easier to target U.S. forces when we are outside the wire."

Henke's concerns were heightened this week by a string of powerful roadside bombings near his base, Joint Security Station Loyalty, in central Baghdad.

On Tuesday, one of his squadrons was attacked with an armor-piercing bomb that struck the passenger side of a mine-resistant armored vehicle, igniting the fuel line. His platoon lost another truck Thursday in a similar attack.

As other soldiers rushed to help their comrades out of the burning vehicle, insurgents opened fire with AK-47 assault rifles in the densely populated area.

The soldiers returned fire and escaped without injuries, said Henke, 29, of Newbury Park, Calif. But had they been in a Humvee, a smaller, less-fortified vehicle soldiers will use during daytime as of next month, "they would have all been killed -- all of them," Henke said.

Two other powerful roadside bombs that day were placed on the same route, not far from Iraqi National Police checkpoints, Henke said. One seriously wounded a soldier. Another that detonated nearby on Wednesday night killed an Iraqi police commander. The Pentagon spent billions of dollars in 2007 on the mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles. They are believed to have contributed significantly to the decrease in American deaths in Iraq.

Ten U.S. soldiers were wounded in an ambush Thursday in Baghdad. A military spokesman provided no details about the incident. Nevertheless, attacks on U.S. troops remain low compared to other periods of the six-year war, but American commanders say they anticipate an increase in coming weeks as insurgents seek to make a statement after the first deadline of a security agreement that charts the withdrawal of U.S. soldiers.

In the past few days, several attacks in urban areas, including two that each killed more than 75 Iraqis, have heightened concern about the readiness of Iraq's security forces to operate with limited American assistance.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company