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Three soldiers were killed and two others wounded in fighting north of Baghdad on Wednesday as U.S. troops continue a push into areas where Sunni insurgents remain active.

The soldiers, whose names had not been released, were attacked with small-arms fire while conducting operations in Salahuddin province, according to an Army press release.

The two wounded soldiers were medically evacuated to a military hospital, but no further information on their condition was given.

All were from the 101st Airborne’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, Staff Sgt. Sam Smith, a military spokesman in Iraq, said.

Three soldiers from the same Fort Campbell, Ky.-based brigade were killed Jan. 8 in Samarra during what the military called an intense firefight with al-Qaida militants.

This week, The Associated Press, quoting anonymous military officials, said the Army is investigating whether those three were killed by friendly fire.

Meanwhile, the military says the two week-old Operation Phantom Phoenix has put al-Qaida in Iraq “on the run.”

Officials have described the operation as an effort to flush out insurgents who in many cases are believed to have taken refuge in areas surrounding Baghdad after last year’s U.S. troop surge forced them from the capital.

More than 40,000 pounds of explosives were dropped in a massive airstrike on Jan. 10 south of Baghdad, where at least 30 insurgents have been killed, according to a press release from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, based in Fort Stewart, Ga.

The operation is also focusing on building up Iraqi security forces and so-called concerned local citizens groups.

At least 12 U.S. soldiers have been killed during the operation. Six were from the 3rd Squadron, 2nd (Stryker) Cavalry Regiment, based in Vilseck, Germany. They died Jan. 9 when a bomb exploded in a booby-trapped house in Diyala province.

In an e-mail, Lt. Col. Rod Coffey, the squadron’s commander, said his unit had found and destroyed eight other booby-trapped homes and an “enormous amount” of weapons caches.


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