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Iraq: U.S. Forces Continue 'Clearing Operations' In Al-Fallujah

  • Ron Synovitz --> The U.S. military says it has occupied positions across most of Al-Fallujah after a one-week ground assault there. A senior U.S. field commander says it will be days before the last pockets of resistance have been eliminated so that coalition forces can claim total control of the city. But the assault is now in its final stages. Today, fresh U.S. strikes were called in against an insurgent tunnel network. U.S. Marines also continue house-to-house fighting in what they call "clearing operations."

Prague, 15 November 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. military continues to attack insurgent positions in Al-Fallujah with mortars, field artillery, and air strikes.

U.S. officials said their targets today included an underground complex of tunnels in southern Al-Fallujah that connected several buildings filled with weapons and ammunition.

U.S. Marines Corps Lieutenant General John Sattler said it could take several days to eliminate what he called "isolated pockets" of resistance.

Speaking late yesterday, Sattler said his troops have managed to move through all parts of Al-Fallujah and can claim they have "liberated" the city from insurgent fighters.
U.S. soldiers still engaged in house-to-house combat said the streets are still "kill zones." That is, U.S. and Iraqi government troops cannot walk freely on the streets without being attacked by insurgents.

But the U.S. soldiers still engaged in house-to-house combat said the streets are still "kill zones." That is, U.S. and Iraqi government troops cannot walk freely on the streets without being attacked by insurgents.

Sattler said most fighting is focused on the south side of the Al-Fallujah. But he also confirmed that insurgents remain in northern parts of the city that were seized by U.S. troops a week ago.

"What's going on -- both up in the north all the way down through the southern sector [of Al-Fallujah] -- is we continue security and clearing operations," Sattler said. "So what we've done is where we've bypassed certain areas -- in other words, the fighting had raged through those areas -- we have to go back now and make sure that we clear each and every building."

Still, Sattler concluded that his troops are in the final stages of the battle for Al-Fallujah. He said he expects the remaining pockets of resistance to be eliminated in the next few days.

"We will not stop until we have gone back and cleared each and every building within the town to make sure that any die-hard insurgents -- or intimidators or terrorists that want to dig in and want to fight to the death -- that they have been accommodated," Sattler said. "And that we have cleared all of the ammunition and the weapons, the explosive bomb-making materials for both individual explosives and rigging cars for explosives."

U.S. military officials said at least 1,200 insurgents have been killed so far. By comparison, they said U.S. casualties as of late yesterday included 38 killed and about 275 wounded. Six Iraqi government soldiers have been killed.

Ian Kemp, editor of the London-based journal "Jane's Defence Weekly," told RFE/RL today that conclusions should not be drawn from the casualty figures until the battle is finished -- that is, when U.S. forces have obtained total control of Al-Fallujah.

"It's those individuals who remain for any so-called last stand who are going to be the most determined of the [insurgent] fighters," Kemp said. "The United States also needs to obtain complete control of the city -- which means the room-by-room, house-by-house search to see whether any of the insurgents have been left behind [or] any of the insurgents have infiltrated around [to different positions within Al-Fallujah]. Until that is completed, it's difficult to talk about what the final casualty totals are going to be and what this means."

But Kemp said military analysts already are asking how many insurgent fighters managed to sneak out of Al-Fallujah.

"This really is going to be a critical issue because the United States had many months to establish a proper cordon around the city to ensure that no insurgents would escape," Kemp said. "So if any have escaped in large numbers, it would imply that that cordon was not as tight as it should have been. This could have been probably a combination of the size of the city, the terrain involved and also the troop numbers that the United States and its allies had available to it."

Kemp said it is clear Al-Fallujah will not be the final battle against the insurgency. As evidence, he cited the continuing insurgent attacks against police stations, oil pipelines, and other targets elsewhere in Iraq.

"It would be misleading to divorce what is happening in Fallujah from what is happening in the rest of the country. A number of insurgents have slipped away from the city to continue the battle elsewhere in Iraq," Kemp said. "While the international attention has been focused on Fallujah for the past couple of weeks, the insurgency has carried on across the country. And in some areas, that insurgency activity has actually intensified."

Clashes were reported today between insurgents and U.S. troops in the cities of Ramadi, Mosul, and Baquba. Correspondents in other Sunni-dominated towns -- like Latifiyah and Samarra -- report most Iraqi government security forces have abandoned their uniforms as a result of almost daily insurgent attacks against police stations or facilities of the Iraqi National Guard.