The bomb that killed two Pennsylvania National Guard soldiers Saturday was of a type used with increasing frequency by insurgents to try to penetrate the extra-armor kits that have been recently put on most U.S. vehicles in Iraq.
Lt. Col. Philip J. Logan, commander of Task Force Dragoon, said in an e-mail to The Inquirer from Iraq that the bomb was a remote-control weapon made from 122mm artillery shells wired together for a huge explosion. It was planted on the shoulder of a road just north of the Samarra bypass, 60 miles north of Baghdad, he said.
Guard officials in Pennsylvania said Monday that they did not know whether the blast was from a mine or was set off beside the road.
"The detonation caused the vehicle to swerve down an embankment, which was what caused most of the damage/injury," Logan said.
The Guard soldiers were riding in an M1025 humvee equipped with a factory-made armor kit for extra protection, Logan said.
Just last month, Congress added $340 million for the Marine Corps and $105 million for the Army for more armored vehicles, raising the total number of planned armored vehicles from several hundred at the start of the war to more than 10,000 now.
But as the military forces in Iraq have improved the armoring of their vehicles, the insurgents have responded with bigger and more lethal bombs.
The army of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein used 122mm shells. That type of artillery is typically employed by China and the former Warsaw Pact nations, once the allies of the Soviet Union, said John Pike, a military expert who heads the Washington think tank Globalsecurity.org.
Pike said that only the heaviest tanks operated by American forces in Iraq could withstand such a bomb if it exploded close to a vehicle.
"Just about everything else, if you get a big enough detonation, it's going to take it out," Pike said.
Lt. Col. Chris Cleaver, a Guard spokesman at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa., said the device apparently was what the U.S. military calls a daisy chain - two or more buried explosives wired together and separated by a few feet or yards. When such a bomb goes off, it can hit two or more vehicles in a convoy at once.
Sgt. Brahim Jeffcoat, 25, of North Philadelphia, the father of a 19-month-old girl, and Spec. Kurt Krout, 43, of Spinnerstown, Bucks County, a father of four children and a Wal-Mart manager, were killed in the attack.
Logan said that both men - along with three injured soldiers - were evacuated to a combat-support hospital at Camp Anaconda near Balad, Iraq.
Jeffcoat and Krout "later passed away at the hospital," Logan said.
A memorial service for the pair will be held today by their fellow soldiers in Iraq, including their own unit: Alpha Company of the First Battalion of the 111th Infantry, based in Northeast Philadelphia.
Cleaver said that Spec. Rudolph Roberson Jr., 27, of Philadelphia, who suffered serious head lacerations and a broken leg in the bomb blast, was to have arrived by last night at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
The other two injured men were identified as Sgt. James Newman, 33, a Rite Aid store manager from Schwenksville, Montgomery County, and Pfc. James Mcintosh, 38, of Johnstown, Pa.
Logan, in his e-mail, gave an account of the incident that differed in a few details from information reported Monday by Guard officials in Pennsylvania.
He said that all five men were riding in one vehicle, not in two.
He said that U.S. soldiers chased down and captured one man suspected of having a role in the attack.
It is "unknown at this time if he is the guy that set the IED ," Logan said.
Gayle Eselby, of Limerick, a sister of Newman's who was in computer contact with him yesterday, said her brother told her of an earlier incident the same day in which the soldiers' convoy had been attacked.
That is how hazardous Iraq can be.
"Nothing big," she recalled her brother saying of the earlier incident. "Nobody was injured, just cuts and bruises. They cleaned up with that, and they continued on their way."