BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – A roadside bomb killed 10 Marines and wounded 11 others on a foot patrol near Fallujah, the U.S. military said. It was the deadliest attack against American troops in four months.
The ambush occurred against Marines from Regimental Combat Team 8, based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, the military said Friday. The Marine unit has suffered some of the highest casualties of the Iraq war.
The unit”s latest losses occurred Thursday and were among 14 new deaths in Iraq announced by the military Friday.
Altogether, at least 2,124 have died since the beginning of the war, according to an Associated Press count.
The attack in Fallujah came a day after U.S. President George W. Bush outlined his strategy for victory in Iraq, and at a time when there are growing calls for an exit plan for U.S. troops.
Hours after the military announced its grim news, Al-Jazeera broadcast a videotape and statement in which the kidnappers of four Christian peace activists threatened to kill the hostages, two Canadians, an American and a Briton, unless all prisoners in U.S. and Iraqi detention centers are freed by Dec. 8.
Foreign Office Minister Douglas Alexander, interviewed by the British Broadcasting Corp., condemned the release of the latest video of the hostages.
"We are concerned about the welfare of the hostages and we deplore the release of these videos, not least because of the great distress to the family of Mr. Kember and the other families involved, but our policy on this is well established," he said. "We condemn all kidnappings and we hold the hostage takers responsible for their safety."
The roadside bomb in Fallujah, the former insurgent headquarters west of the capital, was fashioned from several large artillery shells, the military said.
Senator John Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the ambush a "very serious attack," saying "it appears that this group of Marines had collected, which is always a dangerous thing, in sort of one location."
The U.S. command did not release many details of the attack, but a witness said it occurred at a mill Amiriyat al Fallujah, just outside the city.
"More than 20 troops entered there and a huge explosion happened," said Mohsen Mohammed. "Afterward, the helicopters and tanks arrived in the area."
The military statement said seven of the wounded later returned to duty and that the rest of the team was conducting "counterinsurgency operations throughout Fallujah and the surrounding area" to improve security for the Dec. 15 elections.
Names of the victims were not released pending notification of their families. The statement also did not give the precise location of the attack, the single deadliest against U.S. troops in Iraq since 14 Marines were killed Aug. 3 when a bomb destroyed their vehicle near Haditha, 140 miles (225 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad.
Also Friday, three U.S. soldiers from the 48th Brigade Combat Team were killed in a traffic accident south of Baghdad, and the military said an Army soldier assigned to the 2nd Marine Division died of wounds suffered the previous day when his vehicle was struck by a rocket in Ramadi, 70 miles (113 kilometers) west of the capital.
U.S. forces have stepped up military operations throughout the Sunni Arab regions west of Baghdad to cut off the flow of weapons, ammunition and foreign fighters entering the country from Syria and to reduce insurgent activity.
As part of that campaign, the U.S. military on Friday launched a new offensive, Operation Shank, in Ramadi, capital of the insurgent-ridden Anbar province. About 200 Iraqi army soldiers and 300 U.S. Marines were taking part in the offensive, the fifth in Ramadi since Nov. 16. U.S. officials hope the operations will enable Sunni Arabs to vote in the parliamentary elections without fear of insurgent reprisals, which the Americans blame in large part for the Sunni boycott of the January balloting.
Washington hopes a big Sunni turnout will produce a government that can win the trust of the Sunnis, the backbone of the insurgency, and convince more of them to lay down their arms. That would hasten the day U.S. troops could go home.
However, many Sunni politicians fear that military operations so close to the election will have a negative impact by frightening voters away from the polls and deepening hostility to the Americans and their Iraqi partners.
A major Sunni clerical group, the Association of Muslim Scholars, appealed to the Arab League and human rights organizations to intervene with the Americans to stop "the massacres in Anbar." The Association is believed to have ties to some Sunni insurgent groups and is an outspoken critic of the American role in Iraq.
U.S. casualties have been increasing in recent weeks at a time of growing discontent within the United States over the Iraq conflict.