NICOSIA Ñ The U.S. military has launched a search-and-destroy offensive against Sunni
fighters loyal to deposed President Saddam Hussein.
Thousands of troops from the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division have been
deployed in two Iraqi cities. One force, the size of two battalions, arrived
in Falujah, some 65 kilometers west of Baghdad, on Wednesday. Another task
force was deployed around two military airfields in the area of Habbaniyah.
Falujah and Habbaniyah are major transit points from Baghdad to the
Syrian border and are said to contain thousands of Saddam loyalists who fled
the Iraqi capital during the war.
Sunni insurgents have repeatedly attacked
forces from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, Middle East Newsline reported.
"To address this threat we are applying additional military resources
and forces to help us identify and decisively defeat these anti-coalition,
and I might add anti-Iraqi, regime elements," Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, head
of U.S. forces in Iraq, told a news conference in Baghdad on Wednesday.
Officials said a search-and-destroy operation for Sunni insurgents could
begin next week. They said the force has been bolstered by 88 M1A1 Abrams
and 44 Bradley Fighting Vehicles.
The United States has tried to quell unrest by banning heavy weapons
stolen from Iraqi military arsenals. On June 1, U.S. military authorities
announced a two-week amnesty in which Iraqis could turn in heavy weapons
But the response to the amnesty has been light. McKiernan said Iraqis
handed over around 300 weapons around the country. The military has allowed
Iraqis to keep such firearms as assault rifles and pistols.
Officials said the U.S. military captured the commander of the Iraq Al
Quds force. The force was meant to comprise of Iraqi volunteers prepared to
fight the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, but officials said Al Quds units were
not seen in action.