U.S. blames 'terrorist element'
for improved Sunni attacks

Monday, October 6, 2003

The U.S. military has acknowledged that the rate and lethality of Sunni attacks have increased steadily since May. They said U.S. soldiers are attacked up to 20 times a day.

"The enemy has evolved a little bit more lethal, a little more complex, a little more sophisticated, and in some cases, a little bit more tenacious," U.S. commander in Iraq Lt.Gen. Ricardo Sanchez said. "The evolution is about what we expected to see over time."

"We believe there is, in fact, a foreign fighter element," Sanchez said. "There is a terrorist element focused on the coalition and international community in general and the Iraqi people to try to disrupt the progress being made."

Most of the attacks on U.S. troops stem from roadside bombs, officials said. They said Saddam loyalists have improved the quality of these bombs, which can be detonated from hundreds of meters away, Middle East Newsline reported.

"They are using more improvised explosives against us," Sanchez said. "So he has evolved, he is learning. But so are we and this will continue for a little while."

Sanchez provided the first data of Iraqi attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq as well as the rate of casualties. The general said American soldiers are sustaining between 15 and 20 attacks per day amid the steady flow of insurgents from Iran and Syria. The figure cited by the general was higher than that reported by U.S. military spokespeople.

The general did not rule out the prospect of a Sunni attack with a large number of U.S. casualties. He said coalition forces must be prepared for "intense fighting" in western Iraq.

"As long as we are here, the coalition needs to be prepared to take casualties," Sanchez said. "We should not be surprised if one of these mornings we wake up and there has been a major firefight with some casualties or a significant terrorist attack that kills significant numbers of people."

Sanchez said most of the attacks were in Baghdad and the surrounding region to the north and west. The area is known as the Sunni Triangle and contains loyalists of deposed President Saddam Hussein as well as Al Qaida insurgents.

[In Washington, the Bush administration said the U.S. intelligence community and military have determined that Iraq's nuclear program was far less advanced than had been assessed. David Kay, appointed by the White House to investigate Iraqi weapons of mass destruction assets under the Saddam Hussein regime, said no chemical or biological weapons were found in Iraq and that the nuclear program was in the "very most rudimentary" stage.]

Sanchez said U.S. troops were being killed at an average of up to six a week. He said 40 U.S. soldiers have been injured on an average week. The general said the insurgency remains local with signs that a regional leadership is emerging.

The Defense Department said 314 U.S. service members have died in Iraq since the war began on March 20. About 90 of them were killed since May 1, when the United States declared the end of major combat.

The United States and its allies have launched several measures to stop the flow of Islamic insurgents into Iraq. Officials said coalition forces have decided to close the borders with Iran and Syria starting from Friday in an attempt to halt the flow of Islamic insurgents into Iraq. They said the coalition would seek to keep the borders closed for up to a month. Officials said the U.S. military assesses that American casualties will decrease as Iraqi troops take over many of the security duties. About 100,000 Iraqi military and security forces are expected to complete training and begin deployment in 2004 along the nation's border and around key highways and facilities.

On Wednesday, the U.S. military relinquished to Iraqi forces the responsibility for security at Objective Jaguar, a major ammunition supply point. The security responsibility for the 12-square-kilometer facility was assumed by the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps.

Officials said Iraqi forces underwent two phases of training by U.S. troops. In the first phase, the Iraqi recruits spent two weeks in basic training at Camp Claiborne in Mosul where they were instructed in marksmanship, drill and other military disciplines. In the second phase, Iraqi soldiers were trained for a week in how to search vehicles, detain suspects and guard facilities.

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