U.S. mobilizes for offensive against Saddam loyalists

Thursday, June 5, 2003

NICOSIA 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 tanks 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 without penalty.

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.

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