Armed Iraqi fighters ambushed an American tank patrol 35 miles north of Baghdad, launching rocket propelled grenades at the unit, according to U.S. Central Command.
U.S. soldiers killed four of the assailants in the initial gun battle and opened fire from Apache helicopters as the assailants fled, killing 23 more, Central Command said in a statement.
The military did not say whether American soldiers had been killed in the attack. U.S. military officials in Baghdad told the Associated Press the fighting continued Friday.
Friday’s ambush was the latest in a series of armed attacks staged by suspected Saddam Hussein loyalists. U.S. forces have launched a massive effort to quash the resistance.
On Thursday, a U.S. Apache helicopter gunship from the 101st Airborne Division was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade. The strike came a few hours after U.S. fighters bombed a suspected terrorist camp 90 miles northwest of Baghdad, news reports say. According to Central Command, troops were able to rescue the helicopter’s two pilots.
One U.S. soldier was injured in the ensuing ground battle. The AP quoted an anonymous Pentagon official as saying 70 people were killed at the camp, mostly non-Iraqi, anti-U.S. Arabs aiding Iraqi fighters.
“It was a tough fight. They were well-trained or well-equipped, and clearly well-prepared for this, for the fight they had,” Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday.
Earlier this week, U.S. forces killed 15 Iraqis and arrested 400 in a sweep called “Operation Peninsula Strike.” The strike targeted an area known as the “Sunni triangle” north of Baghdad, which includes Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit.
In a separate operation, U.S. soldiers arrested 74 suspected al-Qaida sympathizers in a raid near the northern city of Kirkuk Thursday, according to Central Command.
Overall, Central Command has reported at least two U.S. soldiers killed in the last week, while six soldiers have been wounded since Thursday’s battle, Capt. John Morgan, a spokesman for the Army’s V Corps in Baghdad told the AP.
Forty Americans have died in attacks since the war ended on May 1, news reports say. The U.S. government has captured more than 2,000 Iraqis, including half of the 55 Iraqi most-wanted.