U.S. launches air assault east of Baghdad, raids villages
HAMOUD, IRAQ — Bombers, fighter jets and attack helicopters unleashed a thundering attack today as U.S. and Iraqi troops closed in on a web of irrigation canals east of Baghdad where they thought Sunni Arab insurgents were massing.
The predawn strikes shook the ground and sent fireballs and thick smoke into the sky.
The attacks, in a remote area of farms and palm groves, continued sporadically into the morning.
The air assault came after troops set fire Sunday to shoulder-high reeds to clear their view before a final push in Diyala province, a region they say has become a haven and training ground for Al Qaeda in Iraq and other militant groups.
U.S. troops said they killed 21 armed men Sunday. At least four Iraqi soldiers were killed and 27 wounded in antitank mine blasts.
About 1,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops are participating in the assault, which includes attack helicopters, tanks and Humvees.
Over the last four days, columns of troops have pushed through hamlets populated by wheat farmers and sheep herders to clear an area that is riddled with spider holes, tunnels and weapons caches.
One stash uncovered Sunday contained 1,169 Katyusha rockets, small arms and ammunition, the U.S. military said.
All men of military age have been questioned and tested for explosives residue. But in most homes, troops have found only women and children.
Hamoud, a one-street village of mud-brick homes, was no exception.
U.S. troops asked to meet the village sheik, or leader, and were told there wasn't one. Many houses were abandoned, some of them apparently in haste, with laundry dangling from window bars and chickens scratching in the yard.
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