BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. troops battled gunmen in a mosque after their combat outpost north of Baghdad came under machinegun and rocket-propelled grenade fire that killed one soldier, the U.S. military said on Friday.
The military said an aircraft fired a Hellfire missile at two gunmen on the roof of the Sunni Arab mosque in the town of Tarmiya on Thursday after ordering everyone inside to evacuate.
While it is unusual for U.S. troops in Iraq to attack religiously sensitive sites such as mosques or even enter them, they have launched assaults in the past on mosques suspected of being used as bases for militants or to store weapons.
“These insurgents displayed total disregard for the community by using a mosque, a sacred place for Muslims to worship, as a sanctuary to commit their acts of terror,” said Major Mike Garcia, spokesman for U.S. troops in the area.
He said the mosque sustained only minor damage in the operation in which 20 people were detained. The U.S. combat outpost had been repeatedly attacked by gunmen in the mosque since May, he added.
Tens of thousands of U.S. troops are deployed in and around Baghdad to try to clamp down on violence and give Iraqi leaders time to reach consensus on reconciling the country’s warring sects.