"Surge" in War Crimes?

The US Army has opened a criminal investigation into an allegation of "battlefield deaths" of detainees captured by a US brigade that operated last year in southwest Baghdad, an army spokesman said.

The allegation involved the 2nd Combat Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division, which returned to its home base in Schweinfurt, Germany in November after a 15-month tour in Iraq, said Paul Boyce, an army spokesman.

Boyce said the investigation was triggered by "what appears to be an allegation of at least one, and likely more battlefield deaths involving captured detainees."

"The allegation is that this may in fact be some sort of a battlefield crime and we are pursuing this to determine the facts, the circumstances and further investigative leads," he said.

Boyce said the 1st Infantry Division's 2nd Combat Brigade operated in the Rashid district of southwest Baghdad during its tour.

He said the alleged deaths did not occur in a detention facility but rather at what the military calls "the point of capture."

The deaths are alleged to have occurred at least six months ago, he said.

He provided no other details on the specifics of the allegation, which came to the army's attention last week.

The Army's Criminal Investigation Command is conducting the investigation, he said, adding that the probe was still in its initial stages and no charges have been brought.

"Usually, these things come to light when somebody talks about it, a soldier in the unit, that sort of thing," he said.

"I don't want to rule out the scope and the extent of the situation quite yet, until we better understand what we are dealing with," he said.

Stars and Stripes, a military newspaper that first reported on the investigation, said the Schweinfurt-based unit saw heavy fighting in Iraq, suffering 59 deaths.

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