U.S., Iraqi forces continue hunt for al-Qaida in Iraq insurgents
FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq — U.S. forces are pursuing al-Qaida in Iraq insurgents who killed at least nine Iraqis and wounded others Thursday during an attack in a town near Baghdad, military officials said Saturday.
The 3rd Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team was after some of the men involved prior to the attack in Hawr Rajab, a small town just outside Baghdad’s southern city limits.
Plans to find the insurgents will continue in the wake of the attack that killed seven “concerned citizens” and two Iraqi soldiers, said Col. James Adams, deputy commanding officer of the 2nd BCT.
Concerned citizens are not soldiers or police officers but receive pay and uniforms from U.S. forces to patrol their neighborhoods.
“We know their leaders. We know their patterns and we know generally what losses they took,” Adams said of the al-Qaida attackers. “We have forced them to move around a lot, so there is no specific safe haven for them anymore. We’re going to attack them where they’re at.”
Accounts of the battle’s death toll and timeline varied widely among media outlets, which quoted mainly Iraqi sources.
U.S. Army unmanned plane footage shows the battle occurring in the morning.
The insurgents began their perimeter attacks around 6 a.m., then moved into town and stole an Iraqi Humvee. They used the armored vehicle to target the concerned citizens headquarters, also known by some locals as the Sunni Awakening Council, in the heart of Hawr Rajab.
A gun battle between the two groups ensued. At about 7:30 a.m., an Iraqi army force moved against the insurgents and drove them out of the town, according to U.S. Army officials and unmanned plane footage tracking the battle.
As the insurgents fled, an Air Force F-16 dropped a 500-pound bomb on an al-Qaida van with at least two people inside, 2nd Brigade officials said. Helicopters from the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade assisted earlier, they said.
It is still unclear how many insurgents attacked; estimates vary anywhere from 15 to 50, officials said.
Al-Qaida in Iraq operatives likely spied on the town several days before the attack, Adams said. Although they demonstrated their ability to plan and stage an attack, they lack the clout to hold and control the town as they had earlier this year, Adams said.
Hawr Rajab was an insurgent haven earlier this year; however, reconciliation efforts during the past few months have decreased attacks sharply, soldiers said. U.S. military and State Department officials have since concentrated on building the town’s police force and local government, while encouraging economic rebirth.
A battle like Thursday’s has the potential to slow reconstruction down, Adams said. However, he noted that the population hasn’t fled the town following the attack.
Dozens of U.S.-funded small business and reconstruction projects are still operating or in the pipeline, he said.
An Air Force F-16 drops a 500-pound bomb an al-Qaida in Iraq van after the insurgents attacked Iraqi soldiers and "concerned citizens" Thursday, 3rd Infantry Division officials said.