BAGHDAD (AFP) -At least 41 insurgents have been killed in the past two days by US-led troops in an assault on Al-Qaeda networks in the restive province of Diyala, northeast of Baghdad, the military said Thursday.
Around 10,000 US and Iraqi troops backed by attack helicopters launched Operation Arrowhead Ripper in the province on Tuesday to root out Al-Qaeda militants in the region in the largest single assault since 2004.
“Our combined forces have begun destroying Al-Qaeda operatives and their resources in and around Diyala province,” US commander Brigadier General Mick Bednarek said in a statement released by the military early Thursday.
The forces destroyed three “enemy safe houses” and a number of roadside bombs, the statement said.
“Ground forces also found a house booby trapped with improvised explosive devices in the Khatoon neighbourhood near Baquba. The building was destroyed with a rocket from an air support helicopter,” it said.
The military called in air support to kill another four suspects seen planting roadside bombs, the statement added.
“Our joint efforts, along with the citizens of Diyala, will continue to back these Al-Qaeda terrorists into a corner until they have no choice but end their attempts,” said Bednarek.
Troops have also captured six alleged Al-Qaeda militants attempting to escape the assault in an ambulance, the statement said, adding that the men in the ambulance, which evaded a checkpoint, showed no signs of injury.
In an interview with a London-based newspaper, General David Petraeus, the head of US forces in Iraq, said he expected Al-Qaeda to strike back in response to the assault in Diyala.
Speaking to The Times of London from Baghdad, Petraeus said on Wednesday that the terror network was “obviously going to have a surge of their own.”
“You saw an example of this yesterday (Tuesday),” he said, referring to a massive truck bomb in Baghdad on Tuesday which killed at least 87 people.
“They wanted to make sure that the headlines about the launch of the offensive don’t create too much hope.”
In a separate US-led operation launched southeast of Baghdad, troops have detained more than five dozen suspected insurgents and destroyed 17 boats on the Tigris river used by insurgents, the military said.
More than 2,500 US troops are involved in Operation Marne Torch, another major offensive aimed at clearing “extremist sanctuaries” in the Arab Jabur region outside Baghdad, the military said in a separate statement.