Friday, March 16, 2007
"BAQOUBA, Iraq - Dozens of U.S. Stryker combat vehicles roared into Baqouba at sunrise. The enemy was ready. As the dawn call-to-prayer fell silent, the streets blazed with insurgent fire.
Within minutes of the start of their first mission in Diyala province Wednesday a voice crackled across the radio: "Catastrophic kill, with casualties."
Inside the rear of one Stryker, soldiers shushed one another and leaned closer to the radio. They all knew what it meant. A U.S. vehicle had been lost to hostile fire.
Nearly 100 Strykers, armored troop carriers with 50-caliber machine guns, were called north from Baghdad into the province and its capital to try — yet again — to rout Sunni insurgents, many who recently fled the month-old Baghdad security operation.
The fighters have renewed their campaign of bombings and killings just 35 miles northeast of the capital as the war enters its fifth year. Diyala province is quickly becoming as dangerous as Anbar province, the Sunni insurgent bastion west of Baghdad......
Violence has risen dramatically in Diyala since the Feb. 14 launch of the Baghdad security operation. Insurgents have slowly been taking control for months, however. Attacks on American forces in the province have shot up 70 percent since July, according to military figures.
The Stryker group sent to fight the insurgents was hand-picked by Gen. Ray Odierno, the second in command of all U.S. forces in Iraq. It marked the opening of a new front in the Baghdad security operation, a broadening of the mission for which President Bush has promised more than 20,000 additional soldiers.
The Stryker group came to Baqouba on Tuesday full of optimism about pacifying Diyala, as they did earlier in parts of Baghdad and in the northern city of Mosul.
Confidence faded Wednesday in the hail of insurgent fire and news of casualties among comrades.
"Our first day and we lost one already," said 22-year-old Spc. Jose Charriez of Hermiston, Ore. "You realize how quickly your life can go." ....."