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Agence France Presse October 29, 2003

M1 Abrams tank disabled by Iraq roadside explosion

By Jim Mannion

An M1 Abrams tank was disabled in Iraq by a roadside explosion for the first time in an incident that killed two crew members and wounded a third, US military spokesmen said Wednesday.

Little information was available on the extent of damage or the type of explosive device used in the attack late Tuesday about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northeast of the town of Balad.

But it was another sign of the growing effectiveness of the attacks against even the most heavily armored US forces.

"Two soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division were killed and one was wounded when their tank hit an unidentified explosive device," the US military said in a statement.

One of the dead was identified as Sergeant Michael Paul Barrera, 26, of Von Ormy, Texas. He was with the division's 3rd Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment.

Military spokesmen in Washington and Baghdad said it was the first time the army's main battle tank had been disabled by a roadside explosion since Iraqi opposition forces have begun targeting US convoys and patrols with so-called improvised explosive devices.

A US defense official, who asked not to be identified, said an improvised explosive device detonated as the tank rolled over it.

The force of the blast caused the behemoth to roll over an embankment, which is what killed and injured those inside, the official said.

The 4th Infantry Division has the latest model of the tank, the M1A2 SEP, which weighs 69.5 tonnes, is armed with a 120mm main cannon and is equipped for digitized communications.

"It is the most heavily equipped, and heavily armored main battle tank that the US has ever put out in the field, and supposedly can protect those inside fairly well," said Patrick Garrett, an analyst with GlobalSecurity.Org, a private research group.

"If it is true that a tank was damaged to this sort of extent resulting in fatalities by a simple roadside bomb, depending on whatever size it was, that does not bode well for the future of the occupation," he said.

"That really does prove there is no safe place for American soldiers," he said.

The incident also raises questions for the Stryker, the new wheeled armored vehicle that the army has made the centerpiece of its efforts to make its armored forces lighter and more rapidly deployable.

The Stryker has been scored by critics as too lightly armored to withstand rocket-propelled grenade fire. Its advocates say it makes up for it with advanced communications, greater mobility and precision firepower.

The army plans to deploy its first Stryker brigade to Iraq in the spring.


Copyright 2003, Agence France Presse