Mideast edition, Tuesday, July 10, 2007

While the military has largely changed its focus to cementing the gains made by U.S. and Iraqi troops who swept through Baqouba, troops continue to find weapons and ammunition caches, officials said Monday.

The fight to clear Baqouba of al-Qaida in Iraq operatives has been dubbed Operation Arrowhead Ripper, and has been going on for more than three weeks.

According to the U.S. military command, troops from the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment and 3rd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 5th Iraqi Army Division “discovered and disabled five vehicles being prepared as [car bombs] and caches containing pipe bombs, sniper rifles and other explosives and IED-making materials.”

During the operations in the city, the troops have regularly come across both cars and buildings rigged with explosives, officials said.

In western Baqouba, troops from 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment reported finding an al-Qaida “safe house” with medical supplies and equipment. The supplies were seized and distributed to civilians, officials said.

In the Buhriz district of the city, 1st Battalion, 14th Cavalry Regiment and 2nd Brigade, 5th Iraqi Army Division troops reportedly killed five insurgents who were launching mortar attacks from a palm grove.

Brig. Gen. Mick Bednarek, the Task Force Lightning deputy commander for operations, was quoted as saying, “Not only have we cleared out the active al-Qaida operatives in the western part of the city, but more importantly, started to return fundamental life and normalcy to the citizens in that part of the city — food, water, fuel — those things that are essential to the trust and confidence of the people in their government.”

Since the beginning of the operation, some 60 suspected al-Qaida operatives have been reported killed and 215 have been arrested. Fifty-five weapons caches have been discovered and 24 booby-trapped structures have been destroyed, officials said Monday.

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