- Mar 13, 2007
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........Tens of thousands of US and Iraqi soldiers are continuing simultaneous operations in Baghdad and to the north, south and west of the capital under Operation Phantom Thunder, a new plan intended to root out al-Qaeda fighters and other militants.
The latest offensive comes after the US military completed the build-up of its forces in Iraq to 156,000 soldiers and sought to deny militants sanctuary in the farmlands and towns surrounding Baghdad.
"To the extent that you can eliminate them, we will," said US military spokesman Rear Admiral Mark Fox.
"(And) if you've got it properly cordoned then they're going to flee into somebody's arms. It's a trap."
Hard fighting was expected in the next 45-60 days, he said.
In the worst incident for the military in the past 48 hours, five soldiers were killed when a roadside bomb hit their vehicle in northeastern Baghdad overnight. Three Iraqi civilians and an Iraqi interpreter also died.
Another roadside bomb killed four US soldiers in west Baghdad yesterday. Such bombs are by far the biggest killers of US forces in Iraq.
Washington and US commanders say that some of the most sophisticated roadside bombs - "explosively formed penetrators", or EFPs - are still arriving in to Iraq from neighbouring Iran, a charge Tehran denies.
"I know that inside of my battle space, there are munitions clearly marked with Iranian markings, and I am losing many of my soldiers to EFPs," Major-General Rick Lynch, whose command stretches south from Baghdad to the Euphrates River and west to the Iranian border, said.
A total of 3545 US soldiers have been killed since the start of the unpopular war in March 2003.
On Baghdad's southern flank, the military said 60 suspected insurgents were detained, 17 boats used to transport bomb parts to the capital were destroyed, and weapons caches were seized.
To the north, 10,000 US and Iraqi troops continued assaulting al-Qaeda hideouts in an operation focused on Baquba, the volatile capital of Diyala province, that has killed 41 militants over the past three days, the US military said.
Rear Admiral Fox said it was too early to call Operation Phantom Thunder a turning point in the war but the military was stepping up the pressure on al-Qaeda.
"This is a military operation with clear objectives ... to set the conditions for the political and economic progress that the government of Iraq needs to demonstrate," Rear Admiral Fox said...........