U.S.: ‘Terrorist training camp’ found in Diyala province
American and Iraqi troops uncovered what they described as a “terrorist training camp” for al-Qaida in Iraq while conducting operations in Diyala province, north of Baghdad, officials said Tuesday.
The compound was described as a fortified underground bunker with three exit points, four prepared fighting positions and a training camp building.
In adjacent palm groves along the Diyala River, the troops found five weapons caches holding more than 100 rocket-propelled grenades, 70 mortar rounds, bomb-making materials and training materials.
Diyala has seen an increase in violence in recent months, with American military officials attributing that to militia and insurgent fighters shifting north away from the beefed-up military presence in Baghdad.
The suspected training camp and weapons were found by a joint patrol of the 5th Iraqi Army Division and American troops from Company B, 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, attached to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.
Col. David W. Sutherland, the 3rd Brigade commander, said in a news release that the discovery was part of an effort to “attack these organizations and bring the perpetrators of violence to justice in order to secure the population.”
In a news briefing with Pentagon reporters last month, Sutherland said the number of indirect-fire attacks against Iraqi and American troops in Diyala rose from 28 last July to 98 in February 2007. The number of direct- fire attacks rose from 90 to 153, though sectarian attacks fell by nearly 70 percent, he said.
Diyala province includes some 7,000 square miles of land stretching from northeast of Baghdad to the Iranian border. The provincial capital, Baqouba, has seen frequent violence attributed to both al-Qaida operatives and other insurgent groups. Diyala is largely agricultural and known for its large date palm groves.
The recent increase in attacks in Diyala province comes after U.S. and Iraqi troops won several victories last year in the province.
In late April 2006, troops won a decisive battle against al Qaida in Iraq at Buhritz, said Lt. Col. Thomas Fisher, then commander of the 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment. After al Qaida launched a series of attacks, U.S. and Iraqi troops "hammered" the terrorists until the enemy broke, taking many prisoners.
"They planned this big attack and they were stuffed hard," he said in a Friday interview.
Roadside bomb attacks against U.S. troops near Muqdadiyah dropped sharply last summer after the death of al Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, along with a successful Iraqi army attack into an insurgent enclave known as "the breadbasket," said Maj. Jeffrey French, at the time executive officer for the 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment.
But since October attacks against coalition forces have increased 70 percent, Sutherland said.
Sutherland said recent operations into enemy safe havens have prompted the enemy to target security forces instead of Iraqi civilians.