The suicide bomber believed to have carried out this week's deadly attack on a U.S. military dining tent, killing more than 20 people, was probably wearing an Iraqi military uniform, a U.S. general said Thursday.
The FBI has joined investigations into how the attack on the base near the northern city of Mosul was carried out. At the same time, the military is reassessing security at bases across Iraq in light of the bomber's success in apparently slipping into the camp, entering a tent crowded with soldiers eating lunch and detonating his explosives.
The blast Tuesday killed 22 people, including 13 U.S. service members, five American civilians, three Iraqi National Guard members, and one "unidentified non-U.S. person." Military officials have said it's not yet known whether that final death was the suicide bomber.
It was the deadliest single attack on a U.S. base, raising questions about how the attacker infiltrated the compound, which is surrounded by blast walls and barbed wire and watched by U.S. troops who search every person going in and check his identity. The attack's apparent indicated the bomber probably had inside knowledge of the base's layout and the soldiers' schedule.
"The question now turns to how did that happen, and I don't know the answer to that question," said Brig. Gen. Carter F. Ham, the commander of Task Force Olympia, the main U.S. force in northern Iraq. He said it appeared likely that "an individual in an Iraqi military uniform, possibly with a vest-worn explosive device, was inside the facility and detonated the facility, causing this tragedy.
"That's preliminary. We'll find out what the truth is and take necessary actions as we gain more information," he said in an interview with CNN.
Asked about the possibility of insurgent infiltration into the Iraqi security forces, which are being built by the United States, he acknowledged that in the Mosul attack someone may have gotten through the vetting process run by U.S. and Iraqi authorities.
"The vetting process I think is sound, but clearly we have now at least one instance where that was likely not satisfactory. So we have to redouble our efforts there," he said.
Ham said the bomber likely had help, though he did not say whether it was known if the bomber had accomplices in the camp.
"It is very difficult to conceive that this would be the act of a lone individual. It would seem to me reasonable to assume that this was a mission perhaps sometime in the planning, days perhaps," he said.
Military doctors worked through the night
The attack was devastating. U.S. military doctors worked through the night into Thursday stabilizing soldiers and civilians injured in the blast.
Some 42 soldiers and civilians arrived for treatment Wednesday at the U.S. military’s Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in southern Germany with chest wounds, shrapnel wounds, broken bones and burns.
“We’ve been working around the clock,” said Landstuhl spokeswoman Marie Shaw.
With Christmas near, extra doctors working on lighter holiday schedules have been put on standby, told that they need to be able to report to the hospital within two hours if needed. So far, the regular staff has been able to cope with the workload, Shaw said.
“Even our commander went in to surgery last night,” she said in a telephone interview.
'They need specialized care'
The hospital was preparing to evacuate 11 patients later Thursday to Brooks Army Medical Center in Texas which has a burn center.
“They need specialized care,” Shaw said.
Landstuhl receives U.S. casualties from all over Iraq and Afghanistan and it was not immediately clear how many of those who were admitted Wednesday were injured in Tuesday’s attack on a base in Mosul, though Shaw said most were.
Of the 69 wounded, 44 are members of the U.S. military, seven are U.S. contractors, five are civilian workers for the Defense Department, two are Iraqi civilians, 10 are contractors of other nationalities, and one is of unknown nationality and occupation, the military said.
Seventeen of those arriving at Landstuhl on Wednesday were in critical condition in the intensive care unit, Shaw said.
Security measures questioned
Jeremy Redmon, a reporter from the Richmond Times-Dispatch embedded with troops at the Mosul base, said Iraqi civilians working on the base show identification to get in to the base, but once inside move with relative freedom.
At the targeted dining hall "there was no security that I saw," Redmon told CNN. He said that during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan _ in October and November, when authorities had increased concern of attacks _ civilians were screened as they entered "but that stopped after Ramadan."
"We always have force protection keeping their eyes out," Lt. Col. Paul Hastings, spokesman for Task Force Olympia. "For somebody that wants to take his life and kill himself, its very difficult to stop those people."
Asked how will they act following the attack, Hastings said that now that the cause of the attack is known, "a full investigation is now ongoing and from that full investigation we will act according."
Early Thursday, hundreds of U.S. troops, Iraqi National Guards and Kurdish militiamen were seen in the streets of Mosul moving around in Bradley Fighting vehicles. In some eastern neighborhoods they entered homes in search of weapons. One of the city's five bridges over the Tigris River reopened Thursday, after all were blocked off by U.S. troops a day earlier.
Schools remained closed but more people were seen in the streets compared with the previous day. Iraqi National Guards manned a checkpoint near another U.S. base, the former palace of Saddam Hussein, stopping passing cars and searching them.
Residents said they were worried about the worsening situation in their city, which has seen a sharp upsurge of rebel activity in the past several months.
"We see things going from bad to worse every day. All we need is security and peace but I do not see this happening," said Abbas Hussein, 32, a carpenter. "I hope there will be a divine miracle so that the situation becomes stable."
A radical Sunni Muslim group, the Ansar al-Sunnah Army, said it carried out the suicide bombing at the base.