Soldiers become detectives in Operation Pericles
ABU KARMAH, Iraq — A mission launched as part of Operation Lightning Hammer was moving at a slow, steady pace, with some dozen suspected al-Qaida in Iraq fighters arrested, officials said.
The operation began early Tuesday morning with two U.S. Army battalions from the 1st Cavalry and 82nd Airborne divisions surrounding the village of Abu Karmah in what was called Operation Pericles. As many as 16,000 Iraqi and U.S. troops are taking part in the overall mission in Diyala province.
By late Tuesday evening, approximately a dozen men had been arrested, according to U.S. Army Capt. Gregory Sakimura.
“We’re moving at a very slow and deliberate pace in this operation,” said Sakimura, 35, of Mechanicsburg, Pa. “This is typical of what we have seen in the past. The enemy will go underground and blend into the population, so it requires a lot of detective work.”
Two schools, reported by Army officials to have been rigged with explosives, were destroyed by bombs dropped from U.S. aircraft around 3 a.m. Wednesday morning.
Also on Wednesday morning, thousands of members of the Iraqi Army’s 5th Division moved into Abu Karmah.
Col. David Sutherland, commander of U.S. and Iraqi forces in Diyala, said on Monday the operation targeted al-Qaida militants who had fled the U.S. military’s earlier offensive in Baqouba during June and July. Many of those fighters had moved to villages like Abu Karmah, officials said.
Several residents of the village, the outskirts of which was pummeled with 500- and 2,000-pound bombs dropped by U.S. aircraft, said they had never been intimidated by members of al-Qaida in Iraq, but reported hearing of their presence in the area.
“No, I have never been threatened by al-Qaida,” said Arif Ahmed Rasheed through an armed interpreter. “There are no terrorists in Abu Karmah. I have not seen any terrorists in this town.”
Rasheed and his family, along with other Abu Karmah residents, were told to stay in their homes. No one was allowed to venture out.
“My family is scared,” he said.
Troops worked in bounding movements, commandeering houses as temporary command posts along the way.
Army officials said people whose houses were acquired for military use were paid for their troubles, but that mattered little to Kassim Hamid Shatee and his 17 other family members — nine of whom were under 8 years old.
“Where will we go? Look at how many people we are,” Shatee asked a platoon leader who gave Shatee and his family members two minutes to vacate their home. The soldiers told the family they should leave for their own safety.
Maj. Raul Marquez, chief public affairs officer for the 1st Cavalry’s 3rd Brigade, said each unit has “bulk funds” that are used to compensate residents for usage of their property. An agreement is usually reached on an amount, but there is no set rate.
One first sergeant of an 82nd Airborne Division unit said his troops usually pay residents $10 per night for use of their house and property.
Along with the aerial bombing, howitzer and mortar fire rained down on four different locations flanking the western and northern sides of the small village of around 5,500 people in what is largely an agricultural area.
The explosions lit the sky for several hours and pierced the night air while U.S. forces swooped into the village’s alleys and streets conducting house-to-house searches. Meanwhile, an Iraqi woman was accidentally shot in the abdomen during an attempted arrest. The woman was reported to be in stable condition as of Wednesday.
She was caught in crossfire after paratroopers found a suspicious man with an AK-47 rifle. After the man dropped his gun and fled, according to soldiers at the scene, they gave chase. The woman ran out into the fray and was shot accidentally. She was treated by Army medics, then a Black Hawk helicopter evacuated her to a military hospital in Balad.