U.S. destroying Zarqawi network 'day by day'

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The United States has reported continued progress in the drive to destroy the Iraqi network of Abu Mussib Al Zarqawi.

U.S. officials said Al Zarqawi's network declined significantly over the past two months, resulting in a reduction of insurgency attacks in the Sunni Triangle.

The focus of U.S. air strikes on Al Zarqawi has been Faluja, Middle East Newsline reported. Officials said the U.S. military has received reliable intelligence on the location of Al Zarqawi safe houses and insurgents in the Sunni city.

"We've had great success over the last four to six weeks in eroding the network, eroding their capability," Brig. Gen. Erv Lessel, deputy operations director for Multinational Force Iraq, said. "We've had successful strikes against his lieutenants, the leadership within the organization and the support that they receive."

The air force brigadier did not envision an imminent collapse of Al Zarqawi's network. But he said "we are tearing it apart day by day."

Officials have estimated that Al Zarqawi commands more than 500 fighters, most of them based in Faluja and Baghdad. They said Al Zarqawi himself has not been located by U.S. intelligence and was believed to be moving from Iraq to neighboring Iran and Syria.

But Lessel told the Pentagon Channel in an interview on Oct. 8 that the U.S. strikes against Tawhid and Jihad have affected the strength of the Sunni insurgency. He said the total number of rocket, mortar and light weapons attacks in Iraq has decreased from August to September 2004. At the same time, Lessel reported an increase in the lethality of these strikes.

"When you have terrorists using car bombs killing innocent children, killing recruits at Iraq National Guard and police stations, it gives the impression that the level of violence has gone up, that the number of attacks have gone up," Lessel said.

U.S. fighter-jets have launched repeated strikes on suspected Al Zarqawi safe houses in Faluja. On Tuesday, the U.S. military reported an attack on Al Zarqawi hideouts in the Sunni city.

"Following the engagement, secondary explosions were reported, indicating the strong likelihood of weapons caches and explosive devices," the military said in a statement on Tuesday. "Terrorists frequently planned operations from this location. The location had been under the terrorist organizations control for more than a year and innocent civilians knowingly stayed away."

On Oct. 8, the U.S. military reported air strikes on a safe house that contained Tawhid and Jihad leaders in northwest Faluja. There was no word of casualties.

In September, several aides of Al Zarqawi including Abu Anas Al Shami, the No. 2 man in the network, and Mohammed Al Lubnani were killed in U.S. military strikes. Officials said U.S. combat aircraft have conducted more than a dozen precision strikes against Al Zarqawi operational sites inside Faluja.

Officials said the U.S. military operation against Al Zarqawi and other Sunni insurgents has focused on Faluja and Samara. Samara was said to be returning to normal in wake of the recent capture of that city in a joint U.S.-Iraqi operation.

"We are making progress every day in eroding the network of foreign fighters and criminal elements," Lessel said. "There have not been any attacks in Samara. "People are out on the streets, life is returning to normal. We were able to return and restore some of the construction projects that had been started week ago."

But officials said Iraqi insurgents appear to be gearing up for another campaign of violence, this time to coincide with the Islamic fast month of Ramadan, which begins on Oct. 15. They said the U.S.-led coalition was increasing security measures and reinforcing units.

"We certainly hope we can keep the insurgents off balance so that they do not conduct operations as extensively has they have in the past," Lessel said.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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