INFORMATION: Brigade commander says Iran may also be training extremists.
By JAMES HALPIN
The Associated Press
(Published: August 26, 2007)
Iranian weapons are increasingly targeting U.S. soldiers in Iraq, even as a successful mission against insurgents in Baghdad wrapped up, the commander of a Fort Richardson brigade said Friday.
More sophisticated -- and deadly -- roadside bombs, mortars and rockets are confronting the soldiers, said Col. Michael Garrett, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, speaking to reporters by teleconference from Iraq.
The traditional munitions are easy to link to Iran because they are clearly marked, Garrett said. The origin of the bombs is more difficult to determine, he said.
"We believe these are manufactured in Iran and then smuggled into Iraq," he said. "We have information that leads us to believe there is also some training by Iran of the Shia extremist organizations."
The recent mission, called Marne Avalanche, began in mid-July as an offensive operation focused on disrupting insurgent activity in southern Baghdad to prevent it from becoming an enemy stronghold.
More than 120 insurgents were captured during the mission, with nine of those being high value, Garrett said. Nine others were killed.
Garrett said soldiers found 67 roadside bombs and 16 weapons caches, which contained a variety of guns, ammunition and equipment.
Garrett said those types of finds can make it difficult to work with Iraqis because they create skepticism.
"I just don't trust very many people here at all. We just can't afford to," he said.
Politicians and so-called "concerned citizens" can be difficult to trust, he said, because their motives are not always clear. "These are people who were fighting against us not too long ago."
There are about 3,500 members assigned to the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, which deployed to Iraq last fall.
Since the Fort Richardson unit deployed, 51 soldiers have been killed and 314 have been wounded. Last year, 26 soldiers based out of Fort Wainwright were killed during a tour that ended in December.
At least 3,724 members of the U.S. military have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
Despite that, Garrett said morale is generally high in the field, and preparations are already getting under way for their return in January.
"The people are very proud of what they're doing, and I couldn't be more proud of them," he said.