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Insurgents launching more roadside bomb attacks, U.S. general says

WASHINGTON—Iraqi insurgents have doubled the number of roadside bomb attacks on U.S. supply convoys over the past year, the U.S. general in charge of logistical support in Iraq said Friday.

Meanwhile, at least 34 National Guard and Reserve troops were killed in the first 10 days of August, according to Pentagon figures, making it one of the worst periods of casualties for part-time troops since the war began more than two years ago.

Brig. Gen. Yves J. Fontaine, commander of the U.S. 1st Corps Support Command, said insurgents are mounting about 30 improvised explosive device attacks a week on U.S. supply convoys from Kuwait, Jordan and Turkey.

"It's about a hundred percent increase from last year," Fontaine said, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon by videoconference, from Balad air base, north of Baghdad.

Despite the increased use of homemade bombs, however, supply convoys are suffering fewer casualties because of better armor on trucks and other vehicles, he said.

Fontaine said U.S. troops have armored more than 2,000 supply vehicles in Iraq since December, including tractor-trailers, Humvees and cargo trucks, and that unarmored vehicles no longer travel outside secure bases.

"Because we've up-armored our vehicles, the casualty (rate) has decreased significantly, even though the IED attack has increased significantly," he said. "So, now our soldiers are safe in their Humvees and trucks, and they walk out of the incidents when the incidents occur."

Bomb attacks, however, have accounted for nearly a third of the more than 1,430 U.S. combat deaths in Iraq, and insurgents have begun making more powerful and sophisticated bombs that can destroy some armored vehicles.

The question of whether vehicles are adequately protected has been a public concern since last December, when a Tennessee soldier complained publicly to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that soldiers were having to scavenge through Kuwaiti garbage dumps to find scrap steel to protect their Humvees and trucks.

The 1st Corps Support Command runs about 150 convoys a day in Iraq, Fontaine said. The command is made up of about 40 percent active-duty soldiers, with the rest split between the Army National Guard and Army Reserve.

With Guard and Reserve forces now accounting for about 40 percent of the 138,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, casualty rates among part-time forces have begun to climb. Many recent attacks have been during combat patrols, according to Pentagon reports.

At least 251 Army National Guard troops, 13 Army Reservists and 38 Marine Corps Reservists have been killed in Iraq since Jan. 1, according to Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, a Web site that compiles statistics on U.S. and allied forces from Pentagon casualty reports and media accounts.

The spike in the past 10 days is primarily due to one Aug. 3 incident in which a roadside bomb struck a Marine Corps amphibious assault vehicle outside the town of Haditha in western Iraq, killing 14 reservists.

The incident, one of the worst single attacks on U.S. ground forces in Iraq, has raised questions about whether part-time troops are properly trained or equipped and whether insurgents are intentionally targeting Guard and Reserve forces.

Pentagon officials said there's no evidence that Guard and Reserve troops have been intentionally targeted. They said casualties among Guard and Reserve forces are rising because their numbers on the battlefield are higher. Seven of the Army's 17 combat brigades in Iraq are composed of National Guard troops.

"They got lucky and they took out 14 at one time," said Lt. Col. Barry Venable, a Pentagon spokesman, referring to the insurgent attack on Aug. 3.


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.