American snipers ‘bait’ Iraqis

Army snipers hunting insurgents in Iraq were under orders to “bait” their targets with suspicious materials, such as detonation cords, and then kill whoever picked up the items, according to the defense attorney for a soldier accused of planting evidence on an Iraqi he killed. Gary Myers, an attorney for Sgt. Evan Vela, said Monday his client had acted “pursuant to orders.”

“We believe that our client has done nothing more than he was instructed to do by superiors,” Myers said in a telephone interview.

New focus on cyber-terrorism

A report showed up on a password-protected terrorist Web site in the summer of 2006 detailing the supposed susceptibility of the Army’s Stryker vehicles to rocket-propelled grenades.

The terrorists found it on a think tank’s Web site, downloaded it to their own site and urged fellow mujahadeen to study it and use what they learned in attacking the U.S. combat vehicles in Iraq.

Though the report had been discredited, its posting on a jihadist Web site shows how dogged terrorists have become in using the Internet.

U.S. and Iraq may restrict mercenaries

An Iraqi official conceded Sunday that Blackwater USA’s exit would create a “security vacuum” in Baghdad and said U.S. and Iraqi officials were instead working on revamping regulations governing private security companies after a deadly shooting of civilians.

The killing of at least 11 civilians allegedly involving Blackwater guards near a square in central Baghdad has thrown a spotlight on the practices of foreign security contractors who have long angered Iraqis by their aggressive behavior in protecting Western diplomats and other dignitaries.

General claims violence down in Iraq

The No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq said Thursday that a seven-month-old security operation has reduced violence by 50 percent in Baghdad but he acknowledged that civilians were still dying at too high a rate.

The comments came as relations between the U.S. and Iraqi governments remained strained in the wake of Sunday’s shooting involving Blackwater USA security guards, which Iraqi officials said left at least 11 people dead. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki suggested the U.S. Embassy find another company to protect its diplomats.

Petraeus: Limited troop withdrawal

Gen. David Petraeus told Congress on Monday he envisions the withdrawal of roughly 30,000 U.S. troops by next summer, beginning with a Marine contingent later this month.

In long-awaited testimony, the commanding general of the war said last winter’s buildup in U.S. troops had met its military objectives “in large measure.”

As a result, he told a congressional hearing and a nationwide television audience, “I believe that we will be able to reduce our forces to the pre-surge level … by next summer without jeopardizing the security gains we have fought so hard to achieve.”

Report: Troop withdrawal in five years

The United States should halve its military presence in Iraq within three years and completely pull out within five years, the latest US report on the war-scarred country said Sunday.

Only then will Iraq’s government, which has so far been a “disappointment,” take on its own security responsibilities to rebuild the nation, the report by the United States Institute of Peace said.

“The United States faces too many challenges around the world to continue its current level of effort in Iraq, or even the deployment that was in place before the surge,” the report said.

Seven more Americans die in Iraq

Four U.S. Marines were killed in fighting in Anbar province, and three soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in northern Iraq, the military said Friday.

The four Marines assigned to Multi National Force — West were killed Thursday while conducting combat operations in Anbar, a predominantly Sunni province west of Baghdad that has seen a recent drop in violence, according to a statement.

Three Task Force Lightning soldiers also were killed Thursday when a bomb exploded near their vehicle in the northern Ninevah province, the military said separately.

Winning hearts and minds in Iraq

As the world awaits Gen. David Petraeus’ progress report on President Bush’s troop surge, even war critics concede that deploying 30,000 additional GIs has improved Iraq’s security. Largely overlooked, however, is how increased safety has helped U.S. soldiers and contractors rebuild the country’s physical and institutional infrastructure.

Don’t give in to al Qaeda

As the sixth anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, approaches, we should be grateful: al Qaeda has not successfully attacked Americans a second time on American soil. We also should be distressed: Americans are debating whether to fight al Qaeda — or whether to retreat from the one battlefield on which we have a chance to seriously damage al Qaeda, both militarily and ideologically.

Patraeus hints at troop cuts

Iraq war commander General David Petraeus hinted at US troop cuts there by March, setting the stage for his pivotal testimony next week before Congress on President George W. Bush’s surge strategy.

“There are limits to what our military can provide, so, my recommendations have to be informed by — not driven by — but they have to be informed by the strain we have put on our military services,” Petraeus told ABC News Tuesday.