A Marine amphibious assault vehicle patrolling during combat operations in the Euphrates River valley hit a roadside bomb Wednesday, killing 14 Marines from the same Ohio battalion that lost six men two days ago. It was the single deadliest roadside bombing of U.S. troops in Iraq.
Also, an American freelance journalist was found dead in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, the U.S. Embassy said. Steven Vincent was shot multiple times hours after he and his Iraqi translator were abducted Tuesday evening at gunpoint, police said.
On Thursday, meanwhile, the U.S. military said a Marine was killed in action during operations in the volatile city of Ramadi.
The Marines killed Wednesday were assigned to 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines based in Brook Park, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb, according to Gunnery Sgt. Brad R. Lauer, public affairs chief with the unit. A civilian translator was killed and one Marine wounded.
The battalion has been fighting in the volatile Euphrates Valley in western Iraq to seal a major Syrian border infiltration route for foreign fighters. The Marines launched a series of operations in the region in May and June in hopes of pacifying the area so Iraqi military and civilian forces could assume effective control.
U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, in a news conference Wednesday, said American forces were mounting simultaneous assaults on a string of towns along the river to root out insurgents and cut off their freedom of movement. As insurgents resist, the area has become increasingly dangerous.
“This is a very lethal and unfortunately very adaptable enemy we are faced with,” Ham said, though he noted that insurgents were not targeting American forces any more than usual.
Wednesday’s explosion happened just outside the town of Haditha, 140 miles northwest of Baghdad. The Marines were riding in an armored amphibious vehicle, or AAV, designed to carry troops from ship to shore and on land. It has a road speed of about 45 mph and can carry up to 25 Marines.
Marines often criticize the protection provided by the AAVs. Since the vehicle is also designed to be dropped from ships for coastal assaults, the armor plating is not as heavy as that of the Bradley fighting vehicles the Army uses.
The new losses follow the deaths of seven U.S. Marines in combat two days ago in the same operation. One died in a suicide car bombing in Hit, another Euphrates River town. The other six, from the same Cleveland battalion, were killed Monday in Haditha while on sniper duty.
The extremist Ansar al-Sunnah Army claimed responsibility for killing the six.
Web site photos
The group’s Web site Wednesday posted still photographs showing a bloody, badly wounded body wearing Marine camouflage trousers and two hooded gunmen standing in front of several rifles. Masked gunmen had shown up in the Haditha public market Monday afternoon displaying helmets, flak jackets and other equipment they said was taken from the bodies of the dead Marines.
One of the six, Lance Cpl. Jeff Boskovitch, 25, was an aspiring police officer who planned to set a wedding date with his girlfriend when he returned home this fall. He joined the Marine reserves in 2000, his uncle Paul Boskovitch said Tuesday.
“We got a lot of e-mail from him,” Boskovitch said. “He felt he was making a difference there and that the Iraqi people were appreciative of what they were doing.
At least 1,820 members of the U.S. military have died since the Iraq war began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The latest deaths come as the Bush administration is talking about handing more security responsibility to the Iraqis and drawing down forces next year.
At least 39 American service members have been killed in Iraq since July 24 — all but two in combat. In addition, the Iraqi Defense Ministry said that since the beginning of April, more than 2,700 Iraqis — about half of them civilians — had been killed in insurgency-related incidents.