First U.S. casualties reported in coalition offensive

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
First U.S. casualties reported in coalition offensive against insurgents
near Iraq's border with Syria

BAGHDAD, Iraq - (AP) U.S. and Iraqi troops battled insurgents
house-to-house on Monday in the third day of a major offensive against
al-Qaida insurgents in a town near the Syrian border, and the first American
fatality was reported in the fighting.
The U.S. commander of the joint force, Col. Stephen W. Davis, told
The Associated Press late Sunday that his troops had moved "about halfway"
through Husaybah, a market town along the Euphrates River about 200 miles
(320 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad.
At least 36 insurgents have been killed since the assault began
Saturday and about 200 men have been detained, Davis said. He did not give a
breakdown of nationalities of the detainees. Many were expected to be from a
pro-insurgent Iraqi tribe.
The New York Times, which had a journalist embedded with the
American forces, reported Monday that one U.S. Marine was killed and three
were wounded the day before. In Baghdad, the U.S. military said it could not
immediately confirm that, but it often delays the release of casualty
information until relatives of the victims are notified.
CNN, which also had a reporter accompanying the offensive, said at
least one Iraqi soldier has been wounded and that as many as 80 insurgents
have died in the fighting.
In a live report from the scene Monday morning, CNN said the
house-to-house battles were continuing, with ground forces supported by
Humvees and tanks working their way through the narrow streets of the bleak
desert town with U.S. jets and helicopters flying overhead.
Scores of terrified Iraqis fled a besieged town on Sunday, waving
white flags and hauling their belongings.
Davis would not comment on U.S. and Iraqi government casualties but
said the militants were putting up a tough fight because "this area is near
and dear to the insurgents, particularly the foreign fighters." Speaking by
telephone, he said: "This has been the first stop for foreign fighters, and
this is strategic ground for them."
The U.S. Marines said American jets struck at least 10 targets
around the town Sunday and that the American-Iraqi force was "clearing the
city, house by house," taking fire from insurgents holed up in homes,
mosques and schools.
Residents of the area said by satellite phone that sounds of
explosions diminished somewhat Sunday, although bursts of automatic weapons
fire could be heard throughout the day. The residents said coalition forces
warned people by loudspeakers to leave on foot because troops would fire on
"I left everything behind _ my car, my house," said Ahmed Mukhlef,
35, a teacher who fled Husaybah early Sunday with his wife and two children
while carrying a white bed sheet tied to a stick. "I don't care if my house
is bombed or looted, as long as I have my kids and wife safe with me."
The Marines said in a statement that about 450 people had taken
refuge in a vacant housing area in Husaybah under the control of Iraqi
forces. Others were believed to have fled to relatives in nearby towns and
villages in the predominantly Sunni Arab area of Anbar province.
U.S. officials have described Husaybah, which used to have a
population of about 30,000, as a stronghold of al-Qaida in Iraq, led by
Jordanian extremist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Husaybah had long been identified as an entry point for foreign
fighters, weapons and ammunition entering from Syria. From Husaybah, the
fighters head down the Euphrates valley to Baghdad and other cities.
Several people identified as key al-Qaida in Iraq officials have
been killed in recent airstrikes in the Husaybah area, the U.S. military has
said. Most were described as "facilitators" who helped smuggle would-be
suicide bombers from Syria.
Damascus has denied helping militants sneak into Iraq, and witnesses
said Syrian border guards had stepped up surveillance on their side of the
border since the assault on Husaybah began.
The Americans hope the Husaybah operation, codenamed "Operation
Steel Curtain," will help restore enough security in the area so the Sunni
Arab population can participate in Dec. 15 national parliamentary elections.

If the Sunnis win a significant number of seats in the new
parliament, Washington hopes that will persuade more members of the minority
to lay down their arms and join the political process, enabling U.S. and
other international troops to begin withdrawing next year.
However, a protracted battle in Husaybah with civilian casualties
risks a backlash in the Sunni Arab community, which provides most of the
In Baghdad, Mohsen Abdul-Hamid, head of the largest Sunni Arab
political party, sharply criticized "all military operations directed
against civilian targets" because they "lead to the killing of innocent
people and the destruction of towns and cities."
Saleh al-Mutlaq, head of another Sunni faction and a member of the
committee that drafted the new constitution, accused the Americans and their
Iraqi allies of mounting "a destructive and killing operation of secure
cities and villages" on the "pretext that they hide and secure terrorists."
The U.S.-led assault includes about 1,000 Iraqi soldiers and will
serve as a major test of the fledgling army's capability to battle
insurgents _ seen as essential to enabling the Bush administration to draw
down its 157,000-strong military presence.