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Well-armed pockets of insurgents 'fighting to the death' in Fallujah

SPECIAL TO WORLD TRIBUNE.COM
Tuesday, November 16, 2004

U.S. commanders said masked Islamic insurgents were waging fierce resistance from southwestern Fallujah in what has resulted in injuries to hundreds of Iraqi and U.S. troops. They said enemy combatants were employing rocket-propelled grenades, automatic weapons and a range of mines and explosives in a crowded urban area.

U.S. and Iraqi soldiers were seeking to flush out insurgents from buildings and sewers with the use of so-called bunker-blasters. Commanders said the streets and alleys of Fallujah were too narrow for entry by U.S. armored or mechanized vehicles.

On Monday, U.S. soldiers injured in Fallujah held a news conference in Germany's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. Over the last week, about 70 soldiers a day have been arriving at the medical center for treatment, Middle East Newsline reported.

"They were ready to fight to the death," Lance Cpl. Travis Schafer, a rifleman with a Marine Corps battalion said. "It's house-to-house fighting, rooftop-to-rooftop."

"It seemed like they have a pretty unlimited amount of RPGs and mortars," Schafer added. "They seemed to fling those about wildly. They were locking on us with RPGs and mortars from buildings all around us. Even from mosques they were firing from all over the place."

"What you're seeing now are some of the hard-liners," Maj. Gen. Richard Natonski, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, told the British Broadcasting Corp. "They seem to be better equipped than some of the earlier ones. We've seen flak jackets on some of them. But we're more determined and we're going to wipe them out."

Commanders said the U.S. military has been completing what they termed Phase 3, which marked the ground assault of Fallujah. They said Phase 1 was preparing the city for an invasion while Phase 2, which lasted a day, was precision targeting against insurgency strongholds. In the current mop-up operations in Fallujah, Iraqi and U.S. forces have been operating in company, platoon and squadron formation.

On Nov. 14, the U.S. military announced the capture of Fallujah, where about 40 American soldiers were reported killed. But U.S. officials acknowledged heavy fighting in the city throughout Monday.

"In the last 24 hours, multinational force aircraft flew several close air support missions, attacking anti-Iraqi forces in numerous buildings throughout the city," a military statement said.

But military commanders said the coalition has secured Fallujah and that U.S. and Iraqi troops can move anywhere in the city. They said military intelligence provided the location of insurgency strongholds throughout Fallujah.

Col. Michael Regner, operations officer for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, said more than 1,052 enemy combatants have been captured. Regner, in a briefing to Pentagon reporters, said all but 22 of the prisoners were Iraqi nationals. Earlier, Iraqi officials said nearly 200 foreign nationals were captured in and around Fallujah during the campaign.

"Most of those [insurgency] forces decided 'We either swim the Euphrates River or we turn ourselves in,'" Regner said. "Some did, or many. As we see today, many have determined themselves to go ahead and fight to the death. This is street fighting."

Insurgents have escalated attacks throughout the Sunni Triangle in northern and western Iraq. This included fighting in Baghdad, Baquba, Mosul and Ramadi.

In Baquba, U.S. F-16s dropped two 500-pound bombs on suspected insurgency strongholds. In Mosul, U.S. and Iraqi forces launched an operation on Tuesday to restore control over the city.


Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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