Death of a soldier: US losses mount in Battle of Baghdad

October 6th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Death of a soldier: US losses mount in Battle of Baghdad

Media: AFP
Byline: Dave Clark
Date: 06 October 2006

BAGHDAD, Oct 6, 2006 (AFP) - A single shot rang out and Staff Sergeant
Jonathan Rojas dropped lifelessly into the cramped hull of his armoured
car, pitching forward as bright red blood spurted from under his helmet.

His team reacted instantly.

Platoon medics piled in through the 17-tonne Stryker's rear door and one of
his men stepped up to replace him in the squad leader's open roof hatch and
guide the vehicle out of an east Baghdad slum.

"God damn it. He's hit in the head. He's shot in the ****in' head" --
"Roger, roger, gotcha" -- "He's got a pulse, got a pulse" -- "Is he
breathing? -- "He's got a gunshot wound to the head. He's got pulse. He's
not breathing."

For a fearful moment the crush in the crew compartment seemed like chaos,
but Rojas' team was well drilled. Every soldier on board had a job to do as
the platoon roared to the nearest US base, fighting to save their
sergeant's life.

"He's not breathing" -- "We need to move" -- "Get the ramp up, get the ramp
up, get the ramp up" -- "Go, go, go" -- "I need you up on top" -- "I need a
weapon" -- "Here, take my weapon. It's got one in the breach, OK?"

"OK. I need immediate ****in' dust off at Loyalty, copy?"

Despite the platoon's efforts, it was clear that the hidden sniper had
found his mark. Rojas was dead on arrival four kilometres (2.5 miles) away
at Camp Loyalty and no longer needed a "dust off", or emergency evacuation
by helicopter.

The sergeant, a 27-year-old from the industrial town of Hammond, Indiana,
left behind a wife and two pit bull terriers.

Rojas' platoon from the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team washed the blood
from the floor of their troop transport then gathered to salute his body as
it was carried onto a Blackhawk chopper under a blue plastic shroud.

Afterwards, they headed back to the streets to continue their mission.

For the troops of the 172nd, who were deployed to Baghdad two months ago
after seeing their year-long tour of duty in Iraq abruptly extended just
days before they were due to return home, Rojas' death was a cruel blow.

But beyond the close bonds of his unit -- a team of young infantrymen who
are already 14-month veterans of a brutal war -- the popular and respected
squad leader's death was also part of a stark broader picture.

More and more US soldiers are falling victim to the battle to wrest back
control of Baghdad's streets from death squads and sectarian militias.

"As far as US casualties go, this has been a hard week for the US forces,"
coalition spokesman Major General William Caldwell told reporters
Wednesday. "We have lost 18 American service members in about the last 96

Later the same day, coalition headquarters announced that four more
soldiers had been killed in a coordinated mortar and gun attack southwest
of the city.

In Washington, the pre-election debate on the war in Iraq is focused on
whether the troops should be brought home quickly according a fixed
timetable or "stay the course" while Iraq's own fledgling forces grow in

Such disagreements are academic in Iraq, where US forces are facing the
highest level of violence since their 2003 invasion and fighting battles on
several fronts as Iraq descends into sectarian carnage.

Troop levels are above 140,000 and will likely remain so well into next
year, officers say. Many more troops will die before the mission is over.

In Al-Anbar province west of Baghdad, where US soldiers and marines are
engaged in a struggle against Sunni extremists fighting under the Al-Qaeda
banner, powerful tribal sheikhs have turned against the insurgents in their

US commanders hope that, with opinion turning in favour of the Iraqi
government, they now have a chance to defeat the Sunni insurgency in the
field, but they nevertheless expect the movement's eventual death throes to
be bloody.

Anbar is what one US commander called last week "the closest thing I have
to a straight fight". By comparison, the Battle for Baghdad is a Byzantine
political and military puzzle and a potential death-trap for GIs.

As the death toll in the vicious dirty war between Sunni and Shiite
factions mounts, more and more fingers are pointing at the Mahdi Army, a
fragmented Shiite militia nominally loyal to radical cleric Moqtada

Sadr last openly challenged US forces to a fight in August 2004, and the
two sides have since been involved in what a US intelligence officer called
a "cold war" while Sadr has worked to build a broader political base.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's fragile national unity government includes
Sadrist ministers and lawmakers, and so far has been loathe to challenge
the sway of a militia that some fear is becoming a state within a state.

US commanders say they are waiting for Maliki's green light to expand their
Baghdad security operation to Sadr City, a Shiite slum in eastern Baghdad
that is home to more than 2.5 million people and an estimated 7,000

Death squads based in Sadr City emerge at night to carry out targeted
political killings and random sectarian massacres of Sunnis elsewhere in
the city, before returning to the safety of home ground.

Often, locals wake to find bodies littering the wasteland and the canal
banks between Sadr City and the mixed suburb of Obeidi, where on Tuesday a
platoon of US troops mounted in Strykers carried out a scouting mission.

There was no sign of trouble when the heavily armed squad rolled up outside
the Al-Shahama boys' primary school in Obeidi, visiting local institutions
and preparing for a possible order to secure the area in the weeks to come.

"We welcome to you, our guests," exclaimed English teacher Amir Shebib,
when US Captain Brent Irish sat down to meet staff. "Don't forgot there is
between us friendship, because you removed Saddam Hussein," Shebib said.

It was a typical conversation, such as US officers are having all over the
divided city, trying to build up links with distrustful local communities
and discover the realities of local politics.

"There aren't terrorists here, because the people here cooperate with us
and each other," said Shebib, all smiles as grinning children waved at the

Back inside the Strykers, the platoon prepared to explore more of the
muddy, rubbish-strewn streets of Obeidi, a rundown district where locals
said they hadn't seen US troops patrolling in more than a year.

Then the shot rang out.

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