Regular readers of this blog will note that I reported two IEDs found in Tuz in the course of two days. When the second IED was found, the base launched a mission that night to provide additional presence patrols and checkpoints in the city. I went out with a group from the 120th Infantry who were setting up a checkpoint covering a bridge in the city. The searches conducted at the checkpoint were relatively uneventful. A number of trucks came through loaded with watermelons and chickens, and a couple of vehicles came by shuttling individuals from the surrounding villages to the citys hospital. While on the checkpoint, however, we heard gun shots from across town. A Special Forces unit came across individuals who appeared to be setting an IED. When the suspects rushed to their vehicle, a firefight ensued, but the vehicle ultimately escaped. On our way back to the base later that evening, we reached a road very close to base where we were stopped by Lt. Hunt because of a possible IED further down the road. I left the 120th guys and joined up with Lt. Hunt to wait for the Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) team.
The possible IED was set in the center of the road. Lt. Hunt took me over toward it so that I could get a closer look and snap a few pictures. It was clear that the person who placed the object wanted it to be seen: they placed a line of rocks across the road, stood up a sandbag in the middle of the array, and propped up a piece of cardboard on top of the sandbag. After Id taken my pictures, we returned to the vehicle to wait for EOD. When EOD began their approach, Lt. Smith and I walked toward the object with the intention of going around it--at a safe distance mind you--to get to the other side where the EOD would be operating. The road was pitch black, and shortly into our walk, Lt. Smith suggested that we must be getting close to the IED by now. I depressed my shutter button to take advantage of the cameras bright "pre-flash" light, only to find that we were a few short meters from the object. We took a few steps back before moving around the object from a safer distance. The "IED" was ultimately found to be a fake--just a sandbag filled with junk. Sometimes teens play "pranks" like this--complete with wires sticking out of the would-be IEDs. But at times this kind of decoy is intended to get convoys to stop short of the "IED" in what is the kill zone of the real, hidden IEDs.
While I have not heard news of any new IEDs in the last couple of days, there is news of increased banditry in the area. For example, last night, the platoon received a late night call for a Quick Reaction Force mission to assist Coalition elements that were engaging bandits, but were recalled just as they were preparing to leave the gate because the situation was under control.
The cumulative effect of these incidents is a modest uptick in the terrorist and criminal activity in the local zone of operations--an area which has been relatively quiet for the month I have been here. This escalation is not terribly surprising. Al Qaeda operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi expressly called for terrorists to step up violence prior to June 30th, while they could use what he called the "pretext" of American occupation to provide some justification for their actions. The region is still relatively safe, and the locals, who the troopers and I have regular contact with, are overwhelmingly pro-Coalition. However, as is the case elsewhere in Iraq, there is a small percentage of individuals in the area who will cause mayhem when and where they can.