Joint assault amid canals resumes in Diyala province
TURKI, IRAQ — As a heavy fog lifted Thursday in Diyala province, U.S. and Iraqi soldiers pressed into a warren of reed-choked canals and found secret tunnels, weapons caches and a roadside bomb.
But there was little evidence of the fighters they believed might be massing for a final stand as the joint offensive against a reputed haven and training ground for Sunni Arab insurgents entered its eighth day.
U.S. forces said that in the last week they had already killed at least 90 gunmen spotted maneuvering in the area or planting explosives in the road as nearly 1,000 U.S. and Iraqi government troops closed in and blocked escape routes.
Seven more insurgents were reported killed Thursday as they advanced against U.S. and Iraqi forces on the outskirts of Turki, the main village in the area.
"I think we killed the people that were going to fight," said Capt. Stephen Dobbins, a troop commander in the U.S. Army's 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry. "Anybody else potentially thought that was a bad idea and melted back into the civilian population."
But he said U.S. and Iraqi forces could still meet resistance as they press forward.
Commanders have said success will ultimately depend on building a patrol station and establishing a permanent presence in the isolated region east of Baghdad. Until recently, Iraqi security forces had refused to venture there without U.S. backup.
The crackle of heavy guns punctuated by grenade blasts echoed through desolate farmland as soldiers in armored trucks fired into the canals before climbing down to search them on foot. Attack helicopters circled overhead.
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