“The war has not ended,” the commander, Army Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, said after a U.S. soldier was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade while traveling in supply convoy north of Baghdad — the ninth U.S. service member killed in Iraq this week.
McKiernan, briefing reporters in the Iraqi capital, described the sporadic attacks as a new phase of the military conflict.
“Decisive combat operations against military formations has ended, but these contacts we’re having right now are in a combat zone, and it is war, and they are members of [Saddam’s] regime that must be removed.”
Recent days have seen a sharp escalation in attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq.
McKiernan said the attacks were “being perpetrated by enemies whose future is gone. … The rest of the population knows that they were thugs under his regime, and they know — and the Iraqi population knows — that they have no future in this country.”
On Thursday, a U.S. soldier was killed when his convoy came under fire from a rocket-propelled grenade on a supply route through Iraq. The Pentagon said the soldier, who was not identified, was part of a convoy north of Baghdad.
TROOPS’ STAY EXTENDED
In response to the recent violence, McKiernan said he may soon send more troops into combat operations.
McKiernan said the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, which had been planning to return to the United States in June, would remain in Iraq until commanders decided it was no longer needed.
With recent attacks against U.S. soldiers, he said, there were no immediate plans to return the unit to its headquarters at Fort Stewart, Ga.
“Now that the 1st Armored Division has assumed the responsibility for the Baghdad area, I’m working with the V Corps commander on different options,” McKiernan said. The V Corps is an umbrella operation that coordinates U.S. forces in Iraq.
“If we need to apply some of the combat power of the 3rd Infantry Division elsewhere in Iraq, we will certainly not hesitate to do that,” McKiernan said.
DIVISION’S READINESS QUESTIONED
But senior leaders and logistics experts in the 3rd Infantry said most of the division was not ready for combat. They complained that they had received almost no spare parts to repair damaged tanks and armored personnel carriers — what the military calls Class IX supplies — since they left Kuwait on March 22.
“He is going to get U.S. soldiers needlessly killed if he expects us to go into battle,” a senior noncommissioned officer in the 3rd Infantry said of McKiernan. He spoke on condition that he not be named for fear of retribution.
The 3rd Infantry’s supply line was a constant problem during initial fighting for control of Iraq. After the fall of Baghdad, senior officers determined that the division would be leaving within weeks and that its vehicles would be taken out of service, so they never filled orders for parts.
A battalion operations officer said that he had more than 2,600 parts on order and that all the tanks in his unit needed extensive repairs. Another commander said his Bradley fighting vehicles all had two-page lists of parts that were ordered but were never delivered.
“None of my Bradleys are fully mission capable,” said Capt. Chris Carter, an infantry company commander.
Maintenance personnel reported that the treads that propelled tanks forward were worn and that the vehicles’ suspensions were badly damaged. That means the tanks could easily be immobilized in battle and could not move well under fire.
A brigade-level officer wrote a four-page letter to the division commander detailing why his unit was not ready for combat operations, a senior officer said on condition of anonymity.
Asked about spare parts for the division, McKiernan insisted that plenty of supplies were available.
“I wouldn’t say they are lacking repair parts. I would say a lot of them were shot up during the campaign, a lot of them have had to have maintenance performed on them,” he said. “Those soldiers, if they are asked to go and occupy another piece of ground in Iraq and conduct combat operations, they will be all over it.”
Officers in the division said they would follow any orders, but all expressed concern about the possible cost.
PALESTINIAN MISSION RAIDED
In another indication of growing security concerns, U.S. troops raided the Palestinian Authority’s mission in Baghdad on Wednesday and arrested 11 people after ransacking the building, a Palestinian official said Thursday. A top U.S. general said eight people were arrested.
The detained men included Charge d’Affaires Majah Abdul Rahman, who was running the mission in the ambassador’s absence, said Mohamed Abdul Wahab, an official at the mission. They were taken to a U.S. base in the center of the city and have not been released, he said.
“They even took all of our water bottles and food cans,” Wahab said. “They behaved like common thieves.”
U.S. troops have conducted numerous sweeps against suspected criminals and loyalists of Saddam’s regime. Wednesday’s raid was believed to be the first such action against a foreign diplomatic mission.
It was part of a larger operation that saw hundreds of U.S. soldiers sweep through an area of western Baghdad that had seen five attacks on U.S. troops in the past few days.
On Sunday, one soldier died in an attack in the area, after the Humvee in which he was traveling was hit by explosive placed along a highway. At least five soldiers were injured in the incidents, which included two grenade attacks on a police station, and three highway attacks on moving U.S. military vehicles.
Military officials said they did not believe all the incidents were connected.